Learning should a significant part of any experience. Oftentimes, when all else fails, it can make a particular experience worthwhile. As a coach or parent of a youth athlete, a special focus should always be placed on learning: we can always learn something. Win, loss, great game, poor game, whatever happens, the learning should be a foundational aspect of any program. Learning in terms of Coach Chris Sports philosophy means children and parents learn to: observe/listen, participate, analyze, demonstrate and grow.
Learning how to more effectively observe can play a key role in the development of any skill. Observe doesn’t mean spectate, just sit back and watch, observe means being an active watcher, active listener, focusing, taking notes and thinking of questions to use later in the analyzing stage. It also means we should listen more than they speak, much more. Example: to help a child who is new to baseball: find some games to watch on television, watch videos online and find a local place to watch live action baseball of any age. Listen to the announcers, the players, coaches and anyone else involved in the game. After observing all this baseball ask them questions and then have them come up with questions: What are the players doing/practicing? What are they not doing/practicing? Why might that be? How long are they working on things? Which players have the most success? Why might that be? Do they have a pattern or routine? What is it and why?
The more inquisitive a child (and parent are) the more everyone will learn and the pace of that learning will be accelerated.
Get in the game and participate. Keep things light and focus on fun and learning. Mistakes, who cares? A huge part of learning is making mistakes. Mistakes are going to happen. We all make them every day. When a child is learning a new sport or skill not only are mistakes a positive thing, they are fantastic. Why? Because it means they are pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. The effort is what counts. Don’t know something this time around, oh well you will get it next time. Fall, dust off and get back up. Prepping your child for some of the situations is helpful but more importantly, just be positive and encouraging. Expect mistakes and let them know it is part of the process and mistakes are nothing to worry about. Reward the effort and focus, not necessarily the result. Everyone has to start somewhere, even the best baseball players, who earn millions of dollars, weren’t born knowing how to play. They had to be taught! Whatever happens, there is so much to learn by just going out and doing it for real with no pressure.
After they observe/listen and participate, it is time to analyze as much as possible about what they are experiencing. This isn’t during the game or even after the game (remember after the game the only thing you should say is “I loved watching you play”) this is for when they bring it up to you. Again parents, asking questions is key. After you get the ball rolling; ask them if they have any questions, feelings or thoughts that they want to share. When you ask questions, make sure they are open-ended questions designed to get your child thinking and talking. DO NOT CRITICIZE at this time, just listen. Criticizing at this point will shut your child down and when that happens and the learning stops. What could they do better? What did they have trouble with? How did it feel? Was it what you expected after observing/listening and participating? Once they start asking you questions, get their best guess/thoughts on what the answer might be before you answer, this helps keep the conversation going and encourages more growth and exploration. Just keep the conversation going, the more conversation the better.
All questions and observations should be treated as a serious inquiry (don’t assume they know something or should know something just because you do) if they are asking they probably truly don’t know. Give them your best honest answer and if you don’t know it: look it up together! That is a great way to analyze and learn. In the end, you want to find the best practices/methods that help your child improve their skills but your engagement will also improve their overall experience with sports.
After you have analyzed the good, bad and the ugly, it is time to put that knowledge to good use. Isolate what needs work and find a focused way to work on it. If they are having trouble bunting, set up some focused time to break it down. If they are having trouble catching pop-ups, figure out why that is and find focused time to catch 100 pop-ups. Create little challenges, let’s see if you can catch five in a row, then ten in a row, etc. Do this regularly and increase the difficulty of the challenge, until it becomes instinctual, and celebrate each level of improvement they achieve. This will allow the child to demonstrate to themselves and the world, that they absorbed the knowledge and are putting it into practice. It is one thing to “know” how to do it but it is another to execute. They will still make errors, we all do, but each time they are in a game and they bunt the ball properly or catch a fly ball they will gain confidence that they can accomplish even more!
If all of the previous steps are down effectively the young athlete should be doing well and eager to try more things and grow their skills. Only after they have a true firm grasp of the basics/fundamentals should you look to introduce more difficult or advanced skills. This is a slippery slope and each new advanced skill must be introduced with the same process laid out here. This way you can get maximum effort, development, and buy-in from your child, even while they struggle to learn a new skill. You do want to push but don’t move too fast or push too hard, this might overwhelm them and discourage learning. If for whatever reason they have real trouble with more advanced skills, and they are not ready, you can always put it off until later and continue to improve existing skills or ideas. Little by little their threshold for failure and struggle will increase and so will their resilience, confidence, and eagerness to expand their skill set. When this has happened the process has been a success.
The learning that can happen in a quality youth sports program is endless and can transfer over to all the different aspects of a child’s life. That is exactly why learning is one of the pillars of Coach Chris Sports, once the AH-HA moment happens, it can benefit us forever. The skills we learn and the experiences we have as children don’t just disappear when we become adults, they affect our interpersonal relationships, family relationships, work, and social interactions, long after we grow up and are no longer playing.
If you would like more information on tricks to help your child learn in sports (or other aspects) check out my blog post here: How To Help Them Learn
If you have any comments or questions please email Chris at Chris@coachchrissports.com.