I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and we decided we want to coach a youth recreational softball team in the spring. I was driving in my car daydreaming about what I would say at the first team meeting with all the parents present. I would want them to truly understand that I am coach who strives to create a positive experience for their children. I would state my team goals as: 1. for the girls to have fun. 2 for the girls to learn the skills necessary to be successful in the game of softball. 3 for the girls to personally improve their softball skills 4. to have fun.
Youth sport, especially at the recreational level, should never be about winning. It should always revolve around fun, and learning. If you think back to when you were a child, and you ask yourself, why did I play the sports I played? The most common answer is; my friends were playing it. Most young kids choose sports due to their social circle. I also know, as a student of sports psychology, if you link fun to a sport, you’re probably going to be more successful. If they find practicing fun, they will most likely want to do it as much as they can. Therefore, it naturally creates an opportunity for the child to excel in sport later in life, simply because they love doing it.
I want my young players to only possess fond memories of playing youth sports. I’ve always thought of calling an “error” a “learning experience”. I want to train my players brain to say; you know I had a few learning experiences today so now I know what to work on for next time. Instead of the common, I made so many errors today, I must not be very good. After each “learning experience”, especially in practice, I’ll be able to say; “what did you learn from that last play?” After teaching them the correct techniques, hopefully they can answer me with something like; “Coach, my glove was too high the ball went underneath it, so next time I need to bend my knees.” Not only will this help them learn by reiterating the correct cues to perform the skill, but later in life it will allow them to take the pressure off themselves when errors are made. I would even hope they could incorporate this way of thinking into their lives as they grow up. Instead of making mistakes, they can think of them as merely learning experiences.
I also want to breed my players to be intrinsically motivated. I want them to concentrate on mastering a skill to the best of their ability, rather than wanting to merely out play their competition or teammates. I feel that pre-testing and post-testing would be the best way to ingrain this thought process. During the first few practices, I could pre-test my players individually. I would have an assistant coach keep the rest of the team busy so it would eliminate the vibe of competition. I would then post-test them in the middle of the season, and at the end of the season. I would show them their results so they can see how far they’ve come. It won’t matter if they got the worst score on the team or the best because they are the only ones that will know their results. Hopefully this would help them concentrate on their own abilities rather than constantly comparing themselves to other players.
I also want to somehow link winning to giving their best effort. I dont want them to define winning as having the most runs, I want them to define winning as giving their best effort. The thought I have thus far is to break down the process of success, and dwindle it down to effort. For example; How to do you win? – you score more runs. How do you score more runs? – you get more hits. How do you get hits? – by swinging at good pitches. How do you swing at good pitches- by focusing and swinging well. How do you focus and swing well- by practicing and putting in effort. Something like that, to show them that it all starts and ends with effort. To be able to tell them they are winners, even if they lost the game, because they worked hard and gave it all they had. I want them to always strive to do their best, not to merely win.
I am so excited about the opportunity to possibly impact someones life so heavily. I truly hope I get the opportunity to coach at the youth level!
After re-reading this post, I got to thinking. Why am I not applying this same philosophy or way of thinking to my 18U team. I guess as a coach I somewhat expect them to be able to change their thought processes on their own. By giving them the information, and then merely talking about it with them all the time, I assume they’ll make a change. In reality, these same strategies should be applied with my older teams. It seems juvenile to refer to errors as “learning experiences” with older players, but actually I think it could really help alleviate some pressure. I shall try this soon.
Quote of the day:
“If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not doing anything. I am positive a doer makes mistakes.” – John Wooden