“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back…play for her.”
The development of an athlete in a sport that requires fine motor skill necessitates the athlete first enjoying the activity. Without a base of passion, desire, and love of the activity, development will not occur as the participant will not perform to full ability at training sessions or take part in extra training away from coach led sessions. The Passion Creates the Ability!!! The enthusiasm almost bordering obsession needed to play at the highest levels can only be accomplished by those individuals who develop a true interest for improvement in the specific activity. This desire for improvement is harnessed at a young age through creating a love for the sport in which fun is the prime focus during all sessions.
Many adults who consider themselves coaches forget this step with children that are under the age of ten. These “coaches” begin The Great American Trophy Race by placing children in an environment that is set up for failure. The ineffective method of working with young children is to have them stand in lines, listen to coaching lectures, and run laps. Include boring, non-task oriented drills and you have an ideal recipe for players not having fun and no longer participating in the activity. Development does not occur in this environment in which athleticism must be relied on in order to create success. After the age of ten and as puberty begins to take place, if the process of obtaining appropriate skill development and a passion for participation has not already occurred, the athlete will have a tough time being competitive at the elite levels. A solid technical skill base developed between the ages of 7 and 12 promotes success at later stages of participation.
Jay Martin (2013) introduced me to the thoughts of former United States Soccer Federation Director of Coaching Bobby Howe. Howe uses a formula for the development of players which is:
Realistic Experience + Fun = Improvement in Play
This formula is not only used for soccer, but can be implemented into all athlete development. Realistic experience is the coach selecting the appropriate activity for the specific age or skill level in which they are teaching that particular day. The culture of fun at training and games is partially developed by the charisma (energy, passion, enthusiasm, and patience) of the coach and also promoted by the level of enjoyment by each participant. Each training session for developing players at the younger ages should be designed with the goal of having so much fun that the participant cannot wait to return. Within this session, skills are developed through appropriate activity selection. The athletes think they are just having fun and do not even realize how much improvement is happening. Remember, we want the passion for the sport to develop. If this love of the game is created, skill improvement is bound to occur as the young athlete begins training on their own outside of coach led practice.
General activity haphazardly selected by coaches does not develop the passion necessary for an athlete to become elite. Intentionally selected activities, tweaked to create a fun and exciting environment have the opportunity to create a love for training and playing that will promote skill acquisition and improvement to allow for success at the elite level of competition.
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Martin, J. (2013, May/June). Are coaches responsible for eliminating young soccer players. NSCAA Soccer Journal, 58(3), 4,5.