Coach Matt

Creating the Playoff Experience III: Strategy

In the previous posts we have been talking about the development of passion through experiences and how we as coaches create the best experiences for our athletes. The first step to creating quality experiences is awareness. Awareness of who we are as coaches and how we impact and make a difference in the lives of the athletes we coach. Awareness that if we fail to continue to grow as a coach, our coaching will not create the experiences that develop passion.

The second key to enhancing the quality of experiences we as coaches deliver is Strategy. We must develop a plan that not only spans the long term (weeks to months) but also one that relates to the daily interactions we have with our athletes.  We cannot just roll the dice and expect our practices to create quality experiences without thought and planning.  Through the plans that we develop, we must provide the most appropriate challenges possible.  These challenges that we set forth cannot overwhelm the athlete. At the same time, they also cannot be too easy. If we see that our activities are either too easy or too complicated, our athletes will become disinterested or discouraged.

How do we know if it is too challenging or not?  According to Paul Mairs and Richard Shaw, authors of the book Coaching Outside the Box, the athlete should be assessed from a cognitive, social, and motor development standpoint. Are our athletes developmentally ready for the activities or challenges we have selected? Too often, we see that everyone is grouped together regardless of their developmental age. Many organizations are only considering the chronological age of the athlete when selecting teams. What ends up happening is that only a handful of kids get to have a great experience while the others are just left out. We all know or have been part of a team where you have these standout players who virtually dominate the game.  Those kids who are not developmentally ready are often put into positions where they can be hidden and not hurt the team or they very rarely get to touch the ball.

Another great example of developmental readiness is highlighted in the book Outliers where they discuss Canadian junior hockey at the national level.  The statistics show that a majority of these elite players were born in the first few months after the cutoff date – January 1st.  ESPN also ran a study and found that there are statistically more NHL players born in the early months (Jan., Feb., Mar.) when compared to the later months in the year. Now let’s analyze this utilizing the developmental readiness concept. Those kids born just after the cutoff date can chronologically be grouped into the same age bracket as those born later in the year however are far superior in skill.  This is due to the fact that they may be close to a year older and further developed then the athletes born in the later months.  If we are only grouping via chronological age, how can our athletes who fall on the lower end of the age spectrum have great experiences?

Storm Soccer Pizza Party Pick-Up. What a blast for the U6kids
Storm Soccer Pizza Party Pick-Up. What a blast for the U6 kids. Lilia really wanted to play too.

Assess your athlete and group developmentally.  At the Storm Soccer Academy the U6 kids are not split onto teams and are all given the same color shirt. During the organized individual play activities, the kids are assessed and then separated accordingly based off of their developmental ability. Now this model is not the norm nationwide. We as coaches have to become uncomfortable and change our ideas as it relates to the development of our athletes. What was done 20 years ago cannot continue if we want passion to grow.  We must put a greater emphasis on the developmental age to optimize the experience that each kid has. This will then allow passion to grow

Create better experiences through devising a strategy of developmentally appropriate plans that challenge our kids. Once we have the focus of developmentally appropriate activities we must be creative and be willing to step outside of our comfort zone and have fun as we look to implement them.  This is where the last post of the series will take us – Action.  How do we set our plans in motion?

Coach Matt

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