This simple question should be asked by everyone in sports, over and over. It is the box that should be ticked whenever a decision is made, or a program is implemented. It is the question that should be asked by every parent or coach as he or she designs a practice, or signs up for competition. 

This is the question that John O’Sullivan challenges his readers in his latest blog post from Changing the Game Project. He makes some great points, challenging the adults to stop making youth (and kids) sport about them. Of the 6 big ideas he presents, here is a summary of three of them, with a little comment added from me.

Adult politics in youth sports: I am so tired of seeing great coaches not hired, kids not being selected, and youth sports organizations making decisions based on egos and keeping adults happy, to the detriment of the kids. Solution: We need good people to run for local sports boards. We need people who can see the big picture and beyond their child’s team. Bretta: This is why developing great culture is so important to me, and something I believe we are doing well at BBFC. We have set our culture on the foundation of three words, Belong, Engage and Grow. Obviously just having the words means little if our actions and behaviour don’t support them, and this is our intent across all of BBFC. We have a great committee at BBFC, with brilliant people serving us across all areas of our club.

Sideline coaching from parents and coaches that prevents learning. The amount of clubs that overlook sideline coaching from parents and coaches is astonishing. So many talk a good game but when asked to confront it they say “the parents are the paying customer, they can do what they want.” Solution: Clubs and schools should have a zero-tolerance policy for sideline coaching and abusive behaviour toward referees. They need to stop being afraid some parent might take little Johnny and leave if they tell dad to be quiet. Good riddance. You will gain far more members by serving the needs of the kids and not Johnny’s dad. Bretta: This can sometimes be a tricky one because we can all get a little carried away in an emotional moment of football. The key here is consistency and accountability. BBFC does not tolerate the abuse of referees (or players etc) at any level, but particularly for our kids and youth teams, where the refs are mostly under 18 themselves. The sideline coaching (from parents in particular) is harder to enforce because “everybody” is doing it. The key here is to remember that this is about the kids, not us, and the evidence and research tells us that 1/ it’s ineffective and distracting and 2/ it doesn’t help the kids to learn to make decisions in the game (a critical part of development). I like the Manchester Utd Youth Development approach that “when the ball is moving, be quiet and let the kids create, decide and improvise”.

Creating learning environments that are the least effective way to transfer knowledge: Many coaches still have kids stand in lines and mindlessly repeat the same technique over and over believe this is the most effective way to teach, or what we call blocked practice. Where there are no defenders, no decisions, no direction to the game, and thus no long-term learning. Solution: Randomize your practices. Use the whole-part-whole method where you play first and last, with smaller size activities in the middle of training. Play games, and add defenders as soon as possible if you are practicing to be better during the competition, instead of just at practice. Our job as a coach, “is not to correct everything, it is to observe them solving the problems themselves.” Bretta: This is an interesting and important learning for all coaches, and sometimes goes against the curriculum given to us by our football governing bodies. The research and evidence is clear though, and being adaptable and flexible with curriculums and session plans is a critical part of our coach development. It’s been great watching our U6 to U11s training together on a Monday nights and adopting some of these ideas and principles into the sessions. Well done coaches.



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