“Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.”
-Tom Landry (Former NFL Player and Coach)
Game Day is an exciting day for athletes, parents, fans, the coaching staff, and anybody else that shows concern for the organization or team members. Following all of the hard work put forth during training, the game day often becomes the test. Within the challenge that is game day, many out of character behaviors can occur due to the emotions associated with winning and losing. Emotion fluctuations often happen for athletes, parents, coaches, and fans.
High-level coaches and developmental experts suggest to use the game environment as a time for the participant to continue learning while further developing their skills. Competition becomes negative when winning becomes the overriding goal. Judging participants simply by the result of the game is extremely limiting and provides an intense pressure to perform which often creates mental and skill errors throughout the game. Deemphasizing winning even up to age 18 to allow for increased in game development is a common practice throughout Europe and South America. In the United States, it is often accepted to put pressure on children to win even at the tender age of 8. This practice must be eliminated or youth athletes will simply continue to lose interest, refuse to participate, and have underdeveloped game skills and knowledge. An environment where learning and skill development are the most significant developments must take precedent.
Coaches are the most important factors for the development of a positive environment for athletes. Ensuring that game day is a success by letting the young player practice their sport skills and enhance game understanding must be the focus. An optimal learning situation for a youth sport participant is one where they get to make their own decisions and receive immediate on field feedback from the action employed. Learning happens instantaneously through this process. Opportunities for enhanced skill improvement and game understanding will lead to future successes and are significant to athlete development.
Parents and fans must be on board with this process of development. Behavior expectations must be established by the coach that educates the parents to behave in a positive manner on the sideline simply cheering on their child and their teammates. Any type of coaching or yelling in a negative manner from the parent/fan sidelines at the players or referees will impede the environment of development that is attempting to be established. If pressure is placed on the participants that winning is the only route to success they will not receive the opportunities that are vital for development, building confidence, and implementing new skills or ideas. This behavior will create a negative sports experience increasing the likelihood of loss of interest in participation.
The sideline behaviors that coaches display is extremely important to delivering the appropriate environment for growth and development. Overbearing instruction in the form of constantly telling the player what to do with the ball does not allow the athlete to learn to make decisions on their own. Players that find themselves under constant coach instruction often lack self-awareness and become robotic. Players must be allowed to be able to become independent thinkers and problem solvers on the field. For this to happen, coaches and parents must be patient and allow them to figure things out for themselves.
From the book Coaching Outside the Box: Changing the Mindset in Youth Soccer written by Paul Mairs and Richard Shaw, it is suggested that the coach should become a facilitator of learning. This approach promotes the coach sitting and observing in a relaxed manner on the sideline. Learning happens when players make mistakes and find out through their own experiences how to create success. Key moments do present themselves throughout the game where the coach can facilitate the players’ self-learning by using subtle cues and timely advice. Mairs and Shaw suggest using words and phrases like “Relax”, “Scan”, or “What can you try” in conjunction with positive support and positive body language to enhance the on field learning that is occurring. These behaviors implanted in a positive manner will lead to the creation of a positive environment.
Young players must be provided with sustained periods of freedom, silence, and uninterrupted play throughout the early stages of their development in order to enhance their creativity, ability to make appropriate decisions, and solve problems. In many countries this is the expectation all the way up to the age of 18. In order to produce higher level players that are passionate about their sport, this practice must be adopted in the United States.
A fantastic quote by former U.S. National team player Claudio Reyna sums up this post:
For some reason, adults – some who can’t even kick a ball – think it’s perfectly ok to scream at children while they’re playing soccer. How normal would it seem if a mother gave a six year old some crayons and a coloring book and started screaming, “Use the red crayon! Stay in the Lines! Don’t use yellow!? Do you think that child would develop a passion for drawing?
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