It is becoming an accepted fact that today’s young people do not take criticism well. Which means coaching young people has become much harder than it was in the past.
Coaching the very young is still about giving children the basic skills to enjoy and improve the game that they are playing, having fun and being part of a team is crucial in their development. At this age the parents are far more of an issue than the children.
Studies have shown that more and more young children are now “specialising” in one sport, rather than switching sports with the seasons. These young children, pre-teens that are focussed on one sport are deemed to be better than average. Many play for a number of different teams and have several coaches trying to make them ‘fulfil their potential.’ As a result many of these young children have an added amount of pressure thrust upon their young shoulders. They are expected to be the best, they are expected to perform, and in some countries, they are expected to win a sporting scholarship.
Studies in the USA have shown that these young children, are being put under immense pressure from their parents who see the financial benefits of having a talented young athlete in the family. Some are being forced to play in one position only; even if that may not be the position best suited to the child. Some are being told to ignore their defensive duties and focus on scoring goals and points, as it is erroneously thought that this is what the top teams and universities look at, statistics.
In fact in the USA there is a feeling that parents “investing” in their child’s sporting career, has taken over from parents who looked to capitalise on their child’s good looks, or cute features to gain them acting roles or lucrative product endorsements. Now they can secure an education through sport.
The sad fact is these parents are in many cases having the opposite effect on their children. Thanks to the intense pressure to perform, and the lack of enjoyment had from playing their chosen sport, many children have voiced their wish to no longer play at all.
There will always be parents trying to live their dreams through their children, and some go to unbelievable lengths to achieve this. One father offering to pay his son’s wages if a professional club gave him a contract! However, it is important that children enjoy their childhood. That they experience different games, winning and losing, team sports and individual sports, are all part of growing up, they are part of the learning experience that helps mould them into the adults they become. They may not become a great athlete, but the lessons they learn could see them become a great coach or a superb manager in whatever field they opt to work.
Basketballer Steph Curry is one of the best known athletes in the world today, yet last year when talking to the Wall Street Journal he was against making children specialise in one sport. The article stated, “In an age of hyper-specialization, Curry has reached the pinnacle of his sport by doing the exact opposite. He played basketball, but he also played some baseball, football, soccer and basically everything else in a sports buffet. What worked for Curry, experts say, could work for everyone.” (Specialisation is Not Fun)
When players hit their teenage years it now becomes far more complicated. Sadly many, along with their parents have a greater opinion of their ability than the coaches they have to work with. They lack the versatility to play in a number of positions because they refused to play anywhere but in one position, and now find their place on the team blocked by a player who plays that position better. So the parent and the player throw in the towel, and move to another club. Should they stay and fight for their place on the team? Should they stay and try and learn from the man holding down the place on the team?
In some cases you would say definitely, yes. However sadly this is where the decline of many of these single-tracked athletes will start. They cannot cut it at that level, so will move to a lower level. Some, those with a burning desire inside of them will see this as a stepping stone back to the top and will absorb all the knowledge they can to improve. Others will feel the world is against them and will eventually give up.
There is a new term that has come into sport to describe many of these players, and that is that they suffer “coaching dyslexia.”
The modern-day teenager struggles if a coach yells at them. They feel they are being picked upon, singled out and embarrassed in front of their peers. Yet as players older in years will tell you, a coach focussing on you in a large group is in fact often a good sign. By focussing his attention on that player and urging for improved performance the coach is in fact saying that he believes in that player, and that he knows the player has the ability to do better.
Of course in instant’s like this some young players are not helped by their parents who step in and tell the coach to stop yelling at their child and embarrassing him or her. They then take the child away from a coach who may well have been the best coach for their child, because he saw their talent, and was trying to draw it out of a child, who thanks to years of pressure due to expectation is scared to make a mistake.
Then there is the reaction to being placed on the bench, selected as a substitute, or even being substituted in a game. These decisions again do not mean that a coach does not have belief in the player’s ability, in fact it is usually quite the contrary.
It could be that the coach has made a tactical change in a game, and wants to use the player as a game-changer. It could be that the coach feels the player has done all they can for the team. It could be that the player has transgressed, turned up late, put in an irresponsible tackle that cost the team, and the coach wants to teach them an important lesson. The coach wants the player to learn the error of their ways and the consequences the player’s actions had on the team.
There is nearly always a reason for such decisions. However the key thing to remember is the coach still wants the player as part of his squad, in his core group of players. The coach has not discarded the player, so there is no need to over-react. However if a player has been used to having everything their own way in those formative years, playing where they wanted and being a star, it is understandable that the player and their parents will not react well to such a selection decision.
When players become teenagers coaches will often make decisions not only to see how a player reacts, but to establish whether they are a team player or not. They also want to see if the player has the maturity to read the situation. After all these are young men and women that are soon going to have to stand on their own two feet, they will not have mummy and daddy there to fight on their behalf. It is part of their development as athletes and as human beings. The answer will not be found on Siri or Google, the answer can only be found by the individual.
Many coaches do a wonderful job, shaping young people in sport and away from it. This should never be forgotten. Many give up their free time to give back to a sport they love, or because they get joy out of seeing young people achieve and shine. Many work for no financial reward, and others coach purely and simply to ensure that many can be better players and simply enjoy hours of fun playing sport.
Today coaches are being put under ridiculous pressure by some to make good players into superstars; in many cases it will never happen. It is time we let coaches do what they do best, trust their judgement in many cases, and let our children have fun, enjoy the game, and strive to be the best they can be.
Damian Mori is the greatest goalscorer in domestic football in Australia. Yet in 1990 when on loan to Brunswick former Wales great Terry Hennessy, who was the coach, played Mori as a defender. Hennessy has explained that Mori was an obvious goalscorer, but was struggling to find the back of the net. He opted to play Mori in defence so that the player would understand how defenders thought, how they positioned themselves, so that ultimately when he went back into the forward line he would be able to utilise that knowledge to unlock defences. Hennessy never had any intention of making Mori a defender, but he wanted to make him a better striker. Mori scored 229 goals in 411 NSL Games and 15 in 36 A League appearances, as well as 29 goals in 45 games for the Socceroos. We will never know for sure if Hennessy’s move helped that tally, but it may well have.
Only the very few will ever make sport a career, so let’s not put undue pressure on the young, but also let us show more respect for the coaches and trust their judgement.