Written by Franceline van de Geer (Special Heroes) and Paul Verschuur (Windesheim University of Applied Sciences) / Netherlands
Your job or voluntary work is performed in the area of sports and you spend a lot of time on the sports field, in the hall, in the forest or by the swimming pool. You try to pass and share your passion for sport with a group of young teenagers. You will certainly recognize this situation then: you are doing the utmost to help everyone improve and to have fun too. So, you try to explain that if you do this first and then that and you practice well, you should be able to do that and leave this and then later you will find that … Do you get it now? Probably not! That is what this blog is about.
The confusion mentioned above is exactly what happens with young teenagers who want to do nothing more than exercise, while at least you want to explain the basics of the training to them. Fortunately, many of these youngsters are able to focus their attention on what you have to say. To get back to practice as soon as possible! And then you just hope that something has changed about what you wanted to make clear. Often it is immediately clear whether you succeeded, to your great frustration or satisfaction as a coach.
Of course the sports club can create an atmosphere in which the coach is in charge „and if you do not want to listen then …“, or you enforce discipline yourself . Maybe that is great for talents who are carved out of the right wood to become a top player, but the vast majority of young teenagers stay at the sports club because they experience that they enjoy training as well as progress in sport. For many of young athletes, „having fun“ means a lot of exercise and not having to listen much. The latter undoubtedly also has to do with puberty: long live the puberty time!
So far nothing new. These are the well-known bumps that you encounter as a coach of young athletes. Fortunately, the vast majority of coaches manage well and succeed in captivating and attracting almost everyone. Almost everyone? There are a few ‘opposers’ in every group of youngsters: the type of boy or a girl who apparently never listens, does not seem to understand things and, above all, keeps on talking while you are talking. Or always bouncing with the ball while you just said that „he should finally be silent.
There is a big risk that you always see the same youngster doing this, and that you will get irritated faster and faster. Maybe you react a little angrily, after which the ‘opposer’ will show more behaviour that you think is obstructive, and so on. This is no fun for anyone and with a bit of bad luck your entire team runs away! It is good to know that many athletes between 11 and 15 can hardly do anything about being over-excited and paying little attention. Besides this and above all, they just want to move as much as possible.
You do not have to stick labels like ADHD on them or point to parents who might not have taught their children to listen. Many of these athletes just have too much energy, are too motivated to exercise, have to sit still too much and suffer from their changing body (not just the hormones). A strict coach cannot change that. But what else is there to do?
A lot can be done by the club, the parents and by you, being the coach. We suggest only three tips you can use tomorrow on the sports field, in the gym, in the forest or in the swimming pool. We assume that you have enough knowledge about your sport and about how to provide effective training.
Include compliments in your instructions. Whatever happens during the training, make sure that you mention the positive things you see and mention everyone equally. You probably have to say something briefly about the things that are not okay, but limit this to the minimum. Give at least 10 times more compliments than negative comments. Even to those annoyingly busy children. Especially them!
2. Quick and variable
Use short assignments and offer a variety of activities. Nothing fosters more fuss than complex assignments and longer waiting times. Boring exercises are „deadly.“ So, give assignments that are clear in one sentence. It helps enormously if you organise the materials you use in such a way that it is immediately clear what the youngsters should do. Make sure that the assignment can be completed quickly fairly successfully. Most coaches are sufficiently creative to ensure that repeating successful assignments a few times remains fascinating, but organize their training in a smart way, so that the youngsters experience a lot of variation in exercises.
3. Limits and support
Set limits on the behaviour of the young athlete, but do not reject him/her as a person. Support the athlete by seeing him/her as a youngster that tries to do the best, he/she can. No matter how hard you try to do your best, it is natural there will always be things happening with an outcome that was not entirely intended. Then it is okay to correct the youngsters and make clear that not everything is possible. Always try to do this in such a way that the young athlete notices you cannot allow his/her behaviour, but you still see him/her as an okay person. This is probably the most difficult tip, because youngsters easily sense what you feel and think.
If you are regularly disturbed by the behaviour of the same athletes, it is terribly difficult to limit yourself to rejecting the behaviour you see. And yet, that is the best thing you can do! This is in very small things in your behaviour and it usually starts with the words you use. You probably tend to say, „What a misbehaving boy you are!“ However, it is better to say, „Your behaviour is disturbing me at the moment“ A small nuance that can have a great effect if you apply it consistently and believe in the difference. It may help keeping over-excited athletes involved in the training and the club. It truly is the art of coaching, and it is definitely worth it!
Franceline van de Geer, Special Heroes the Netherlands; Franceline is coordinator of program Sport Heroes and has extensive experience in keeping young people involved in sports clubs by leveraging their specific talents.
Paul Verschuur, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences; Paul is teacher of physical education and psychometrician. As a lecturer and supervisor at Windesheim UAS he coaches students to tune in to people who need more attention.
Both Franceline and Paul are experts in children and youngsters with specials needs or deserve an emphatic approach.