Connecting and engaging young players
Posted by Dean Holden at March 13th, 2013
by jordandoddy, 12 Mar 2013
Quite possibly, coaching young players is one of the most difficult tasks in sports coaching, as every player is so uniquely different. I regularly have conversations with grassroots coaches who volunteer their time to take on this challenging task, almost all discuss their difficulties when trying to connect with the players and impart knowledge to them. They expect the players to be able to learn a new skill instantly, whether this be through an autocratic approach or through a form of guided discovery. This leads to coaches becoming frustrated when they are unable to perform the skill, which begins a cycle where the player is unable to complete the skills and the coach becomes angry and frustrated. Thus resulting in the players becoming unhappy that they keep on being shouted at, yet if we consider why this has happened it links back to coaches being unable to connect and engage the players.
Amongst research there are a lot of papers discussing learning styles, especially the Visual, auditory, reading and kinaesthetic (VARK) method and it’s importance if we are to connect and engage with players. It suggests that everybody has a specific learning style which will change depending on the situation; if we consider this in a sports context, in a group of young players all the learning styles will be present. Yet how do we cater for these styles on a football pitch, rugby field, tennis court or swimming pool? Many different tools have been used, for example I use a small whiteboard as I coach to identify what we are learning, an intended learning outcome (ILO) and to map out tactics which caters for those who learn effectively through reading. The auditory and kinaesthetic learners will already be accommodated due to the nature of a sporting environment.
Yet what I am concerned with is; do we do enough to support the learners and help them to reach their potential? Could we do more to aid their development? The coaching environment is very much an ‘I know all’ atmosphere and coaches often tend to brush off feedback, however I believe there is always ways of improving as coaches for the benefit of players. If we consider a young person’s life today they are surrounded by technology, often playing on video games at home, using ipads at school and watching clips on YouTube. Still in a coaching environment there is very little technology used to support the learners, in the previous paragraph on learning styles I discussed how I used a whiteboard to engage my visual learners. Imagine if I replaced my whiteboard with a video playback tool where they could actually watch themselves playing and identify where, why and how they were successful or made mistakes. This will grab all the learner’s attention. Supported with the correct questions and challenges by the coach, it would accelerate learning rapidly.
This opens many opportunities, however it could also have a detrimental effect on learning. Providing visual feedback is an excellent idea, but we have to ensure the feedback is presented in a form that clearly highlights the learning needs; otherwise we could be giving too much information. For example, if we were to give players pages upon pages of tables, charts and plot graphs they are just going to be baffled by it. Whereas if we were able to provide them with short clips which highlight specific aspects of play and then ask them to identify successful or unsuccessful performance, a greater level of understanding can be reached in a much shorter time.
Considering that our young players are being raised in a world that is driven by technology, we are still, in the sporting world living in our childhood days where there was little technology. It is the responsibility of all those involved with youth sports to create learning environments that are fun, friendly and comfortable for the players so they can reach their potential.