When are we all going to learn the lesson about the double-edged sword of youth sport coaching. The mantra of let's give the best (or most qualified) coaches to the older-aged players, for me, does not work. However, the other side of the coin is that there is no reward system in either pay or recognition for coaching the youngest age groups or what may also be termed the 'worst' players, whatever that means. Add to this the fact that not a lot of volunteer parent coaches have any formal training in coaching or coaching a specific sport, and its simply a recipe for total disaster. So why does it continue? Maybe the answer to this is a complex and multi-dimensional issue, and it is likely to need more than myself to be a change agent in the process. Many organizations and governing bodies of sport are trying hard to fight this battle, which has to be commended, but what I wanted to do in this blog is offer some simple suggestions to youth sport coaches who lack formal training in motor development, motor learning, pedagogy, and do not have much experience in the sport they are coaching itself. These suggestions are based on my observations over the past few months at formal practice sessions I have been around, or ones that I drive or walk by, as there are coaching sessions on the field behind my house on sports like lacrosse, soccer, softball, baseball. Here are share some common things I see 'coaches' doing and made my list to suggest some simple things they can do to help themselves and their players out. These are nothing 'new' I just wanted to share my observations to help make the world a better place:
1. Start with the end in mind
My observations are that 'coaches' spend a lot of time in management behaviors rather than coaching - funnily enough my research also shows this, even with good coaches! But one sure fire way to ensure you are not spending all your time picking up and setting out cones and new areas/spaces, is to 'start with the end in mind'. In other words, if you want at some point to play a 3 vs. 3 game or two 3 vs. 3. games, set up your area at the start of practice so that by moving one or two cones you can manipulate the playing area for the different things you want to do in practice. I have also become a fan of different colored cones, or different sizes or shapes of cones, as this helps players, particularly at the younger levels 'see' the different playing spaces easily. I also run around or have a player run around the area we are using for a practice, to help the others see the boundaries. However, the main thing is that starting with the end in mind helps you minimize transition time and 'off-task' behavior.
2. Know the metrics around playing numbers and playing density
There is some pretty darn good research now that shows us how altering player numbers affects the amount of interactions players have with the ball. But playing density maybe has received less attention. We all do it, add a player to an already existing game without making the playing area bigger. Little do we wonder that doing such a thing (which may be purposeful) now means that each player will have less time on the ball as everyone will be closer to each other when playing. Younger players play bunch ball at the best of times, but we as coaches are now adding fuel to the fire!. So please ensure you think of the Goldilocks principle here of not to hot (small space), not too cold (big space), but just right. Here are some metrics from US Soccer to help you. You can think of how this applies to other sports, too.
3. Use pinnies or 'bibs'
Even in my games class I teach at university, rarely do I see coaches use pinnies and I cannot fathom out why? I get that you could make it awkward for players to make them 'work it out' or 'communicate better' but I just can't see how this is productive when your aim is something else. To me, using pinnies is a must. I do not have research to support my assertion here, but if you are doing anything like an invasion game where the court is not dividing the teams like volleyball, then using pinnies just helps everyone out.
4. Keep kids involved and/or make sure they have something to focus their attention
I must be honest, I hate seeing kids 'sat out' when in a physical activity context. For one reason or another, there may be occasions where the players have to rotate in and out, but if a player is rotating in and out it is imperative a coach gives them something 'to do' when rotating in and out. For example, you may assign a player who is sitting out a coaching role, with the aim of giving feedback to the players on their team at the next break in play. You may dig even deeper and have the player on the side do a specific task, like take stats, or pose them two questions, like what they feel the team is doing well and what they need to improve. I have also played a reporter game with players, and this is useful to hear what they are describing going on as they are watching their peers play the game or do an activity. Finally, you may assign them some extra 'skill work' by setting up a dribbling course, say in soccer. Alternatively, if there are two players out (one from each team) you may have them pass and move in a grid in pairs. When they accumulate so many dribbles through the dribbling course or passes then you tell them to sub in. What you choose for them to do may depend, but these are some options that I have used that have been successful for me.
5. Know the three L's and use these to help you plan to avoid them
Finally, I think all coaches, youth sport parents, and administrators do not like to see the three L's of lines, lectures, and laps as these kill the youth sport coach. While I do not like this negative language, youth sport coaches should do everything to avoid these three 'traps'. To avoid lines, use multiple stations or multiple grids or dribbling courses. I know for some things you may need to have a 'line' but make sure you have no more than one or two players waiting in line is a line is a must. For sure and like I witnessed the other day, there is no excuse for having one players dribbling through cones and the other eleven (yes 11) having to wait for a turn!!! For lectures, use a stopwatch to make sure any explanation or interjection in a practice or game is 30 seconds. Using what some people have called a 'show and go' and having this in your mind as a target ensures you do not drone on and the players become distracted. Finally, I never use exercise or 'laps' as a punishment. There are some many proactive steps you can use. One of my players currently keeps 'diving' when being tacked in soccer, so I ignore it, and he his diving is beginning to become less and less as he knows I am not reacting to it. Sending the player on laps is not worth damaging the relationship I have built with that player.
In conclusion, I hope this is useful. Please leave me some feedback or ask any questions.
Teaching Games for Player Learning
Here are the links you will need for the various activities Dr. Harvey and Phil Edwards will prompt you to complete during the presentation.
Practice Design Questionnaire:
Activity 1: Initial Observations of the Game
Activity 2: Developing Questioning
Activity 3: Game Modifications
Activity 4: Summing Up Your Learning
Thank you for visiting.
This week me and my wife received a note home that our daughter (who is in first grade) after she grabbed another child to get him to line up at the end of recess and he fell and got hurt. As you can see from the note home below, the 'consequences' for her 'misbehavior' was that she lost recess for one and a half days. This has happened before at my two children's previous school and my son also told me he had lost recess at this current school, too. I therefore turned to Twitter to see what other people thought. I posted the original tweet last night (27th Sept 2017) about 11pm EST, and by this evening (Sept 28th 2017) at about 8.15pm I have received the most engagements I've ever had from one single tweet! Anyway, back to the issue.
In the parents comments section, my wife and I made a complaint that recess was being taken away from our daughter. I also called the school after reading some information sent to me by @AaronBeighle. Others also advised that in some US states, removing recess was also not permitted. My following also made comments such as "taking away recess is counterproductive", "Goodness gracious, where do we boycott", "handle the punishment at home", "find another consequence", and "ask the teachers if they'd like to have their prep time taken away every time they make a mistake".
Possibly due to our parents comments on above form, when I called the school to speak to the assistant principal, she told me that my daughter was actually allowed outside at recess but not allowed to play on the playground. In our discussion, however, after disclosing the nature my profession and therefore my investment in the issues surrounding the importance of physical activity for children, I made some points about the value of recess and how using it as a consequence was "counter productive" and lacking in creativity on their behalf (an overview of which can be found at this link). I also questioned how this was allowed if it contravened their school wellness policy. The assistant principal advised me that "privileges" (yes I did say "privileges") such as recess were taken away for misbehavior. She suggested that she would be welcome to hear any ideas "I" had. I suggested to her that maybe convening a meeting of her faculty might be more productive for her and asking them to come up with some alternative ways to manage infractions other than those listed on the sheet above. One of my Twitter friends also suggested sending her "a book on democratic schooling" and the even more radical idea of involving the students at the school in the discussions! As if we can do that!
However, some suggestions that I was offered by colleagues on Twitter and beyond were related to attempting to motivate children to do what they are supposed to be doing rather than taking away or losing anything. Some ideas included using reward points that were built up in the week by good behavior with rewards earned from that a bit like we do with stores rewards points, credit cards or with air miles. Another great suggestion was to write a note to the child who they hurt apologizing for the infraction or maybe ask the pupil (my daughter) to assist the other pupil with something they needed? Asking the pupil (my daughter) to write out a list or draw a picture of what good lining up after recess entails was also suggested. And I wondered about asking her to line up early (30 seconds before everyone else) might work and then being the line leader or having her assist the teacher in gathering the group safely (and reinforcing what is safe and not safe) at the end of recess.
In sum, I think we can all see that there are many strategies that are eminently more productive that losing whole recesses. Yes, being allowed outside to walk is better that losing recess altogether. I'm just not sure that is the answer. Let's not allow our children to miss out on valuable opportunities to be physically active, especially when we know from research how important movement is because it "affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize" (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013, p. 183). Where's the research saying using punitive measures and taking things away from pupils actually works? If you want to offer more suggestions for my daughter's school beyond what I suggest in this blog then please, please, please, add a comment.
After four productive years of working at West Virginia University (WVU), I am now moving on to a new chapter. I wish to thank all of the faculty and staff at WVU for supporting the growth of my career during my time there. I now begin a new role as Associate Professor in Coaching Education at Ohio University (Athens, Ohio) where I will I will be Director for the online Masters in Coaching Education. I am really excited about and looking forward to this new opportunity. If you need to contact me, direct message me and I will send you my new email address.
Last week me and a number of my physical education colleagues attended the 2017 SHAPE Convention in Boston. There was a significant amount of build up to the conference. This was in the form of planning my own sessions, looking at sessions I wanted to attend, debating about how the snowstorm was going to affect things at the conference, and speaking to colleagues face-to-face on social media about the conference. I was pretty well planned for this conference and was really looking forward to it, and it did not disappoint. Like many others I wanted to reflect on my experience of the conference, which lead to the following MAIN reflection, that the conference was where handshakes turned to hugs (term courtesy of Andy Milne, National Health Teacher of the Year, 2017, @carmelhealth).
Handshakes turned to hugs for many reasons. First, I started the conference on Tuesday presenting netball with what came to be termed as a 'British Invasion' with @misslynchpe a young professional from Bournemouth, England, who is currently a Doctoral student from the University of Alabama. We met last year in Minneapolis, and decided to run the netball session with Teaching Games for Understanding. It was an inspired move. Our meetings on Skype and emails prior to the conference had been pretty business-like, as was the meeting we had on Monday before the presentation, the day before the conference started. However, we connected through doing this session and as the session went on, I learned that Shrehan is an incredibly talented physical educator. She inspired me throughout the meetings we had, during the presentation, and then throughout the week. What impressed me most was how she made connections with everyone she met, be it teachers, professors, administrators, other graduate students. The way she straddled the gap between theory and practice as she took an interest in everything going on around her was particularly amazing. And guess what? Our initial handshake on Monday turned to hugs on Friday.
After our presentation, I played the infamous game of Paddle Zlam, brought to SHAPE Boston by Justin Schleider, (@SchleiderJustin). Although I was already presenting with a number of physical educators on Thursday in a session on Game-Centered Approaches (GCAs) I had through Twitter or Voxer. However, I was intentional at this conference in reaching out to and meeting additional physical educators I met in that space. Through informal conversations and playing Paddle Zlam with my partner Craig Kemmlein (@coachkemmlein), I connected on a much deeper level with him and a number of others - Dave Gusitsch (@WstprtWellness), Kari Bullis (@BullisKari), Nick Endlich (@NicholasEndlich), Andy Milne, etc. And guess what? Handshakes turned to hugs.
My final experience was presenting with a small group of incredible people and physical educators on Thursday in a session on GCAs - Jorge Rodriguez (@PhysEdNow), Seth Martin (@smartintahoe), Lynn Burrows (@Lovepeme), Mel Hamada (@mjhamada), and Matt Pomeroy (@Physed_Pomeroy). We have been working together on Twitter and Voxer for about 18-months, and my idea to get more traction going in GCAs such as Teaching Games for Understanding/Tactical Games. We started getting our session planned over Voxer way back in December, 2016 and were still tweaking it as we had dinner the night before. While we may not have covered as much ground as we had wanted, it was truly inspirational to be around those physical educators who really are leaders in the field. Not only are these educators some of the best people you would ever want to meet, they showed me how they has taken an idea (like a GCA) and completely ran with it after being intentional about how it might impact their students. Indeed, this was the biggest message I think people who attended our session to take home: that students matter, and to reach students GCAs were an excellent way to motivate our young learners and teach them skills beyond psychomotor skills. The vibe in the room made me feel awesome, and glad that I originally conceptualized this session. We took the picture below and immediately after the session began to talk about how we may extend this session for next year, which is how great these people are! And guess what? Handshakes turned to hugs.
I think my biggest thing for everyone at this conference (and I think other bloggers have said this since SHAPE Boston) is that we take time out to reach out to people. I feel incredibly lucky and inspired by everyone I met at SHAPE, which includes people not on social media and/or in this blog. We are all physical educators, whether an 'academic' or physical education teacher or school administrator. We know from Aaron Beighle (@AaronBeighle) that with students, its about relationships. And building those relationships so handshakes turn to hugs might be the biggest gift in life we all have. But that comes from taking the time to get to know people, being warm and connecting on the same level. For me as a 'academic', taking time to reach out and connect with practitioners comes easy, and I'm not so sure all us 'academics' do that as intentionally as we should. I know I put myself out there last week, and will continue to do so. Will you join me in doing the same?
Contact me on Twitter: @drstephenharvey or Voxer: sharve7402