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Pete Sturgess
Children Rapport Building and Communicating Organising and Planning

Coaching Children? Make it Memorable... Think Like a Kid!

An engaging coach can inspire a child for life, and specific techniques ensure you can have a positive impact on a child at a potentially key point in their development

Cast your mind back to when you were at school (tricky when you are as old as me!) and I can guarantee that you could name the teachers that inspired you, held your attention and made the subject come alive. Why is it that you can remember these individuals so many years later, what was it about them that has left this lasting memory?

The reasons for these people having such a positive impact upon you are many and varied but I want to propose that it might have been because of a real passion for their subject and a unique way to bring this knowledge to life for the young children in the classroom.

I have been privileged to observe many coaches and I am seeing more and more who have the ability to connect with the children they coach so that there is a real energy and enthusiasm surrounding the whole session.

Is it the activities they plan, the language they use or just their genuine enjoyment of working with young people? It is probably a combination of all of these things so let’s have a closer look at each one.

The importance of playing

Play is a very important part of childhood and the creativity, exploration and imagination that it involves is so crucial to the development of each individual child.

It is a mechanism for understanding how the ‘world works’.  Unfortunately, as we get older we play less and probably in a different way. The freedom and spontaneity is lost and we become more reserved and self conscious.

I mention this because when coaching for young children takes on a more “playful” approach, the session seems to take on a new and exciting dimension.

This does not mean that the activities are compromised or just “time fillers” with no improvement or development taking place. On the contrary, the session is planned so that the kids feel like they are playing a game that they themselves might have devised and all the “adults” are doing is guiding and shaping behaviour whilst offering some advice and encouragement when it might be needed.

This is a real skill and it requires a deep knowledge of the subject (in our case, our chosen sport) but it also requires an understanding of kids and the world that they inhabit!

Why? Because for most of us we become involved in coaching when there is a 10 or maybe 20 year gap since we were that kid!

Most coaching courses look at the sport (and this must still be the case so that ‘subject knowledge’ is developed and improved). However, what must run alongside this (and depending on the level might take precedence) is a growing understanding of the developing child.

It is only in this way that we will get those ‘teachers’ we all remember – they knew their subject but they also knew me!

Communication is key

In observing coaches I listen as much as I look. What words and phrases does the coach use to connect with the children; is the terminology appropriate; have they found a really good way to explain a difficult tactical concept?

I saw a young coach recently who during a drinks break used a tactics board and encouraged the group to write down their ideas and ‘solutions’ to try to solve the problems posed. I looked at the faces of the children and saw the ‘magic’.

Some cynics might say this has nothing to do with coaching – for me it has everything to do with coaching.

It is a coach who is willing to bring the sport to the child. A coach who is demonstrating that learning new things can be exciting and working through problems in a relaxed way can be fun without the perceived urgency that “the kids must get this now”.

Being a coach of young children comes with a great responsibility. You are working with the child during the most rapid periods of development and this is not just physical as issues relating to self esteem, motivation and confidence are inextricably linked to everything you do and say to the young player.

If our coaches know more about how to use praise and encouragement effectively and plan sessions with the ‘magic ingredients’ to keep kids motivated and begging for more, development will happen and in an environment that is supportive and reflective of all the issues relating to young children growing up.

All in the planning

In planning the session I always think 'if I was in this activity, would I want to play?' If the answer is no, I look to refine it so that the response is a more positive one.

I look at the session and I will try to be innovative in the way I mix activities together (I don’t want the kids to know what might be coming next – I want them curious and eager to see what has been planned).

I want them involved in the session so they have to have some ownership and choice and they have to feel that the session has been put together with them in mind.

Some final advice

Many inexperienced coaches find themselves working with the youngest children. My advice – think like a kid!

Ask yourself some questions: why do they come? (to have fun, to be with their friends); what would they like to be doing? (playing games, scoring goals (as my sport is football and Futsal)); what do they need from me? (encouragement, praise and advice and help in a really positive way).

I am sure that by remembering the teachers from our past we will get an insight into what might be needed from us if we decide to coach our young children.

Make sure it is you they are talking about in the future as the one person who made sport ‘special’ for them.

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Pete Sturgess