Published: March 25, 2014
This column is for the youth coaches and the parents of young athletes.
Success begets success!
Coaches must remember that when dealing with athletes. They should construct programs, games and drills that ensure the athletes face challenges while ultimately realizing success.
This means making things easy for them - at least physically. Mentally, they still should be challenged but in a delicate and simple way.
Young athletes often have success without knowing why. After they've progressed in whatever activity, coaches and parents should ask them what they did differently. Children might start by saying they don't know, but parents should coax an answer from them.
I'm a coach, not a psychologist, psychiatrist or sociologist. I don't know if there are any double-blind, peer-reviewed studies proving the effectiveness of the tactics that I use, but I do know that they have helped young athletes.
Scenario No. 1 - Coach with a 5-year-old girl throwing a baseball.
Coach: Wow, you threw that one a long way!
Coach: That was longer than the other ones. What did you do differently?
Athlete: I don't know. It just happened.
Coach: No. Did you close your eyes?
Athlete: (laughing) No!
Coach: Did you cover your ears?
Athlete: (still laughing) No!
Coach: I know! You plugged your nose, closed one eye and whispered, "Give me Coach Milo power!"
Athlete: (laughing even more) No! I just held it right here! I pushed and turned and threw it!
Coach: Which leg pushed first?
Athlete: This one! Then this one!
Coach: Then you turned and threw it?
Coach: Sweet job! I want you to do that every time!
She does it every time, too, mastering that movement until she demonstrates the ability to move to a more advanced technique. She owns that movement now because she was the one describing what she did.
Scenario No. 2 - Coach with an 11-year-old boy throwing a football.
Coach: Sweet! That was a nice throw. I like how the lower body moved that time - powerful and direct. But what else did you do differently because it came with a lot more velocity?
Athlete: (Shrugs shoulders)
Coach: What does shrugging the shoulders mean? I don't speak that language. Translate for me.
Athlete: Ahhh, I don't know.
Coach: Then let's find out. Here, throw again.
Coach: Again. Again. Again. Again. Again - wait! There it is! You feel that one? What did you do?
Athlete: Let me throw again.
Athlete: OK. . I don't know all of it, but the ones you're talking about, I'm squeezing it harder. When I don't squeeze, it kind of slips out.
Coach: OK, squeeze hard on these next five throws.
Athlete: (throwing and smiling)
Coach: Looks like we've found something! You need to squeeze that football every time you throw it.
Athlete: Cool. But why is it so different?
Coach: We can get into why later, but for now just understand when you squeeze the ball, you're using more muscle, not only in your hands and forearms, but in your shoulders, back, chest and core. Using all those muscles makes you move better.
That 11-year-old is in a phase in his life when he can learn a tremendous amount. Coaches should provide that information in digestible chunks. Like the 5-year-old, that's a movement - or part of a movement - the 11-year-old will own because it was a movement that he figured out. I just helped.
Bryant is an author and lecturer who holds several national training certifications. His columns appear biweekly in Health and Wellness. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.