Player development and winning when put in the appropriate perspective for a youth athlete have an opportunity to work together to create the desired environment. The outcome for this type of environment is a love for training, player development, having fun, and passion for participation.
Unfortunately, this practice which is accepted throughout the world is often overlooked in the United States where bringing home the trophy at young ages seems to trump personal development. As a coach or administrator for youth sports, don’t feel that you have to change the whole system. One person cannot do this, but a group of people that keep gradually working towards the goal of promoting development over results can make this a reality. Change what you can control which is your team and organizations environment. As more people have an increased understanding of what youth sports should be, these small changes will cultivate the accepted culture for youth sports.
For youth sports to intentionally create the desired environment, the result of the game must be devalued and player development further praised.
Devalue The Result…The result of the game is never the most important idea…the experiences, accomplishments, and set backs during training and in games create the environment of learning. This is where true growth and development can be measured and defined. Promote the gradual process of improvement to each individual team member and the accomplishment of measurable group goals is realistic. The message delivered by the coach must be consistent no matter what the result of the game is to show the team and each individual that “our beliefs” in the player development process trump the game result. As players hear the same persistent message over and over again, their commitment to the player development plan grows even stronger. Throughout my experiences, I have found that coaches and teams that continually promote the process of improvement over the result of the game, also have success on the scoreboard.
Praise the Process of Player Development…True player development up to the age of 14 focuses on the process of individual player growth over the development of the team. Although team unity and cohesion is very important for athletes over the age of 14, the primary objective for participants under the age of 14 is the growth of the individual player. All training sessions and games under the age of 14 should focus on player development. Incorporating ideas of player development into training sessions and games is done through ideas like the following:
- individual skill growth
- tactical/strategy development
- playing multiple positions
- creating fun learning opportunities
- mental preparation for success
- social awareness and character development
- the use of questions to provoke learning
Once again, the coach must be intentional to focus on player development when talking to players, parents and the team. Game results are inconsequential in the planning of activities as long term plans for training topics have already been developed. As we work towards proficiency of overall player development, the skills and behaviors the participant must be able to perform at specific times of development have previously been determined. Comparisons are not made to other players on the team but each player is expected to challenge themselves to become better every day.
With all of this being said, competition should remain a constant within training sessions and games. Winning and losing is a part of character development. Attempting to win should always be a priority during competition but what it should not do is overshadow the process of player development. This is where the education of the parents is as important as the activities being performed on the field. Parent commitment to the process is attainable but the message has to be delivered to them without variance over and over again.
After 14, many of these ideas remain important but team unity and cohesion must now become part of the process as the player moves into the train to compete stage in long term athletic development.
Coaches and athletic administrators that can devalue the result of the game while praising the process of player development present the youth athletes they work with the opportunity to participate within an environment where growth on and off the field is the expectation.
What is holding you back from being the driving force in youth sports change? Change what you can today for the better and lets influence others to make these same adjustments within their youth sports leadership approach.
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