Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Two weeks ago, I had a fabulous opportunity to direct a soccer camp that featured participants between the ages of 4 and 14. With a smaller enrollment, we were able to focus intentionally on skill development with the older group for the first few hours of camp while the younger participants were involved in a theme based lesson working on skill acquisition. The final 45 minutes, we all played together and the experience was engaging to both groups.
During the game activity, we formed groups of five with two older participants on each team. One older participant played as the coach on the field and the second became the coach on the sideline exchanging roles after each game. The coaches were 12 and the leader running the activity was 14 while the “adult coaches” oversaw the entire group. The growth for the players and coaches was tremendous…
After playing small sided games for eight minutes, each coach was given two minutes to provide instruction for their team. As they have observed their team coaches in the past, they used cones to add visual instruction to their verbal directions. Empowering the twelve year old participants by putting them in the role of the coach immediately created a sense of leadership. They wanted their team to have success and their directions during game play and at our short breaks provided tactical development and skill enhancement.
As the coaches provided instruction, I heard educated comments made about where to stand and what to try to do when the ball was rolling either towards them or to a teammate. Basic instruction was passed on about what to de when defending and how to group together to best defend the goals. The coaching was exceptional, due in large part to it being performed in a positive method with poise and confidence. Most impressive, each coach shared ideas that have been taught previously to them…providing an environment of fun and learning for the next generation of players.
Coach Ben (standing in the above picture) is a 14 year old player that oversaw the entire group during our game play after observing me for one day. His focus was on asking questions to the players about what the coaches were teaching them and discussing with the coaches about their methodology for providing instruction. Ben provided the introduction, established teams, assigned coaching duties, was the “boss of the balls” during game play, and at the end of the playing session gave his overall thoughts and ideas about the exercise. The confidence displayed by Ben to provide an opinion about the game while encouraging each participant about future successes through hard work and fun created an opportunity for coaching and leadership growth.
The initial quote of this passage by John F. Kennedy links leadership and learning. As coaches grow more confident in delivering their message and learn how to be successful in front of a group, their leadership skills flourish. Meaningful experiences happen on the field of play but also happen for young athletes when they are put in new situations. Maybe this will translate into more proactive leadership opportunities for these players in the future. Maybe they will one day grow up to be leaders within their chosen field of employment. Growth and leadership opportunities can be found in numerous situations.
As coaches, it is our responsibility to put athletes in roles where their sport skills and life skills are enhanced. More important than winning and losing, personal enrichment has to be the measure of coaching success. Educated coaches define success as what their players are doing when they are 30 years old, not the result of a U14 athletic competition.
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