How To Help Them Learn.

Learning is a process and it is different for everyone. There are different types of learners with these being the four basic categories: visualauditoryreading/writing, and kinesthetic. I am not going to go into every type in detail because that is not the goal of this article but I thought it was worth mentioning. Good coaches are teachers first and teachers have a very difficult job: they must take a group of students from multiple numbers of backgrounds and experiences, get them in one room/place and try to get them all to learn the same material. Now add to that mix the fact that these students are also all in the middle of their physical, emotional and mental development and you get an extremely difficult task. The truth is that you can’t tailor your coaching (or teaching) to each individual, that’s impossible. However, there several things that can be done in coaching that will allow you to have the most impact/success in getting your message across to ALL your youth sports athletes.

Have a routine:

Routines are crucial we, as adults, have them and use them every day. They help us to focus, stay comfortable, transition and prepare our minds for whatever lies ahead. When they become disrupted, we feel “off” and likely don’t function as well. Playing youth football it was two laps as soon as the coach set foot on the field. Laps completed, our warm-ups started, then we moved on. In a classroom, children may sit on the rug as soon as they return from recess. After a week or so of repetition, they do this automatically and it tells their brain “recess is over, time to focus in the classroom now, get ready to learn”. These do take time to establish but once they are established they do wonders for the ability of your students/athletes to learn and absorb information. And they don’t have to be complicated either but they do have to be executed with almost 100% CONSISTENCY, especially early on, to have the desired effect.

Keep it simple (three steps, maybe four)/ROY G. BIV: 

When coaching young athletes, ideas and movements have to be broken down as simply and succinctly as possible. If an activity or an idea has more than three steps (maybe four) that need explaining all at once that’s too many. Example: In teaching a child to throw a baseball I would say “Arm up, step opposite, throw, follow through”. Later you can dig into detail but breaking down the main steps in a simple, direct manner, is key. It’s also important whenever possible to use mnemonic devices like ROY G BIV (colors of the rainbow) or creating a little song or jingle (like the ABC song). These little devices are fun and are extremely effective at helping them to retain and recall information.

Tell, Show, Do, Review, (Write it down):

Let’s say you want each child to dribble a basketball to the other side of the court touch the wall and then come back. Sounds simple to us but for kids, there can be confusion, even with a direction this simple. So the first step would be to tell them “dribble to the wall touch it and come back”. Step two: You (or someone else) demonstrate it and show them exactly what it is they are expected. Step Three, have them do it and correct it as necessary. At the end of the drill or end of the practice be sure to review what you learned and have them write down what they did. It sounds crazy to have them writing at a sports practice but this will help them recall, visualize and, in the end, retain/recall more information.

Fundamentals/Progression:

The fundamentals should be focused on the most, no question but you can’t ONLY work on fundamentals, you do need to challenge the kids to keep it interesting, so they stay engaged. The pace of the progression is key. Progress to fast and they fail at more difficult skills because they don’t have the fundamentals mastered. Progress to slow and they get bored and lose interest and focus because they aren’t being challenged enough and it gets old. I would rather progress too slow than too fast, why? Because it is much harder to have them exposed to “cooler/new” advanced skills and then try to bring them back to work on the basics than it is to hold them back a little longer, make sure they are ready to advance, let them build that desire for the advanced skill and then let them loose to learn it.

Give them a chance for feedback/questions: 

It is always a good idea to hear the children’s thoughts and give them a chance to offer their feedback. This way they are engaged and they are being heard and even kids like to be heard. While we want their input, we don’t want to get into the endless: “why? why? why?” situation as that becomes counterproductive. To avoid that, I would set guidelines of “I will only take two questions” or “I am only taking questions directly related to what we learned today”. If they do offer questions that seem silly to you but are asked sincerely then give them a sincere, well thought out answer. I once had a child ask me why you got more points for making a shot from behind the three-point line. While the answer was obvious to me, he honestly did not know, so I took it seriously and answered him directly and sincerely.

Give them homework: 

I don’t mean writing an essay but give them something small to do before the next time you practice. If you are playing soccer ask them to practice dribbling the ball for five minutes a day on their own and record it on their phone or IPAD as proof. Ask them to research famous great players or give them vocabulary specific to your sport that they need to look up and learn. Or even a simple three-question take home trivia: “Who is the all-time time goal scorer in the world cup history?” “Which country has the most world cup titles?” “How many do they have?” and offering them a little prize or reward for completing the task, all but guarantees they do it. Little “homework” assignments like this help keep them engaged when they are not actually on the field.

Coaches/teachers all have their styles and tricks that they use to communicate the content to their students. If you are coaching or working with kids for any amount of time you will develop your methods and habits for communicating the information, which is part of what will make you a successful coach. Showing your personality and making the content your own will help build a bond with your students/players and only enhance the effect you will have on their youth sports experience. The six tools listed above are not the “end all be all” of coaching but they are tools that are very basic and foundational to successful teaching/coaching and can help you in your coaching.

I am always interested in feedback so if you have any thoughts on this or any of my posts, please leave a comment or email: chris@coachchrissports.com