Building Robots

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

It is very easy to search the internet and find articles written about over-competitive coaches who ruined the experience for young players and turned them off a sport. But soon, I am concerned, there will be just as many kids who are disenchanted not by hyper-aggressive coaches, but by too much structure at an early age.

I read this on a soccer club website:

Our coaches are master teachers whose demonstrations include demanding instruction, step-by-step clarification, and playful joking to bring out the most sensitive technical points for children to grasp and imitate. They have a great understanding cognitive, psychosocial, and motor development of youth, knowledge about components of physical fitness and appropriate training principles, knowledge of sport and physical activities including skills, rules, officiating techniques for a variety of activities.

A description of their elite, travel program preparing players for playing in college? No, this was in their self-described “Rec (Beginners)” division for five and six year-olds

There seems to be this gripping fear in the United States soccer community that the reason our National Team doesn’t compete with the rest of the world is that we’re not properly training our children from an early age. Everywhere I look I see pressure coming from various national organizations for coaches, even those of the volunteer variety to run fully scripted practices with “progressions” that are planned well in advance.

Yet we all know that some of the best soccer players in the world grew up kicking a homemade ball on the street with friends from morning until night. They had no regimented or professional coaching until they were well into their teens. They weren’t “constructed.” They just loved to play and the grown-ups stayed out of their way.

If a six year-old has the potential to be a National Team player, A) you don’t know it when he’s six and B) no “superior” coaching is going to be required at that age to get him there. However, there is a good chance that if he’s subjected to “demanding instruction” and incredibly “structured” practice plans, that he might someday opt to be a great video game player instead, where there are no forced agendas.

And this, “the earlier we can begin formal training the better” attitude isn’t just limited to soccer. I received an email from a Little League President which stated, in part;

We are very blessed that we have several former Major Leaguers coaching at the T-Ball Level.”

That’s fine, but what skills can a Major Leaguer teach to five and six year-olds that couldn’t just as effectively be imparted by an average parent? Yet it is likely everyone in that league believes these tykes are getting a big jump start to their baseball careers because of the people teaching them to run to first base after they hit the ball, instead of to third.

The younger the players are, the more the experience should be about having fun making mistakes and the less it should be about correcting those mistakes. Volunteer coaches, without impressive pedigrees, are often better in this role than pros. Kids don’t want to go to practice knowing that every minute will be choreographed and planned, stripped of fun or spontaneity. If they’re on the field with a ball, they’ll naturally get better. It’s when they say they don’t want to play anymore that even the greatest coach in the world can’t help them.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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