I grew up participating in many different youth sports. Each has it own culture. Now, as a parent of two kids who also do multiple sports, a soccer coach, and a Club President, I get to revisit the cultures of various youth sports and see things with slightly different (more seasoned) eyes - as well as a different seat. What I've noticed is worthy of an episode. Assuming culture really matters and assuming we are capable of being great in each of them, then what I've seen these last few years is worth talking about. If we can behave one way in one sport and a different way in a different sport, then maybe we can bring the best of ourselves to each and make the whole experience better.
Support for Struggling Competitors
Managing kids who are struggling is the feature I want to talk about in this episode. All kids struggle. All parents, players, and coaches have a choice how to support struggling players. I see kids supported one way in swimming and a whole different way in soccer.
In the sound clips I play in this episode, you will hear first hand what a crowd of parents, players, and athletes sound like when a competitor is struggling. The noise, the clapping, the yelling... all for the player who is in last place is full of positive energy. As an individual sport athlete, I can attest to the fact that struggle is real. The fact that everyone in the environment is so willing to support the struggling athlete means that athletes are free to play in whatever manner fits them best. They know, they are still loved and supported. They also know what they need to do if they want to beat their own times or to place in a meet to put points on the board for their team.
In the team sport context, the environment is more like a battle. Team A vs Team B. Parents, players, and athletes yell support for their own team, but not their opponent. Noticing kids who are struggling is harder in a group setting. Parents and many coaches are much more likely to notice the score board than they are individual development objectives.
Without clarity around who is struggling and how we can best support individual players, how do we do that? Our community has come up with some good ideas.
Be Specific About Individual Development Objectives
Andy FoxAll of the Stoke City Potters youth Academy says in a development environment "every kid has their own key outcomes (KO), if they reach their KO’s then (they earn a) reward. One kid I know, his KO was to encourage team mates more, it had a big impact on the whole team outcome."
Andy shares some wisdom here. Getting specific about development objectives and key outcomes with each player, allows both the coach and the player to understand what they are striving for on an individual basis.
I asked Andy how we then bring parents into the discussion as well. Ideally, we want parents to know what their kid is working on - AND the fact that other kids are all working on similar key outcomes.
His answer was again pretty simple: regular reviews with the players + the parents of key objectives. This simple act of creating key objectives and reviewing them with parents and players gives everyone a clear signal what is important for development of each individual. He went on to clarify that development objectives will be across a spectrum: tactically, socially, physically, and psychologically.
Making this work requires an increase in both communication, attention to individual players, and paperwork. What we're suggesting is work. The alternative to doing the extra work necessary to bring attention to each individual player is continuing to have an environment where the score board is the loudest indicator of success or failure in everyone's face. Parents, players, and coaches will continue to look towards the scoreboard as a proxy for development. The scoreboard is a crappy proxy. It also doesn't encourage the kind of support - support for everyone in whatever stage of development they are in - that we see in individual sports today like swimming.