By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
One of the unfortunate outcomes of the enormous number of games that youth players are involved in seems to be a complete anesthetization of the competitive spirit. I think people who have only played sports for social purposes may consider this to be unimportant but as a former player who loved to compete and had a great desire to play at the highest and most competitive level possible it saddens me. As a coach who continues to work with athletes who wish to compete in high level leagues like ENY Premier, NERP and Region 1 it absolutely baffles me. I suspect that many of you reading this will immediately acknowledge the issue and like myself will be searching for ways to remedy it.
As a coach I believe my role is to teach the techniques and tactics of the game in manner which helps the players solve the problems of the game at the highest possible level which their level of athleticism will allow them to compete. I further believe that it is my duty to teach the game in a manner which leaves my players wanting to play and compete for life.
It is not my job to scream at players and give long inspiration speeches designed to ignite the spark of desire and intensity that leads to healthy competition. I know Hollywood loves the image of a low level team being incredibly altered by some amazing words uttered in earth shattering tones, fists clenched and fighting back the tears from a maverick coach….. BUT REALLY…. It’s just an image that sells movie tickets, it’s not real life.
If I were to interview 100 high level athletes they would all talk about their personal ability to motivate themselves, their ability to find a way prior to the big games of lighting a fire in their own stomachs, igniting the adrenaline rush that helps lead to superior play? I suspect they would laugh at the suggestion that a screaming coach is needed to get the job done.
I guess deep down my concern is fueled by my deep rooted and core beliefs about the values of sport. I believe that at its very best ,character changing and forming moments sport is about two highly intense and adrenaline rushed teams propelled to compete at the highest possible level battling out on the field. At these times I truly believe sport is beautiful to watch. I guess it is because of these beliefs that I find the inability of the majority of our youth players to motivate themselves incredibly frustrating.
I think that the following are the issues that are leading to the anesthetization of the competitive spirit and the consequent removal of the adrenaline rush that leads many parents to ask the question, “Do you really care about playing?”
- Far too many games a year. As I have written about before a JV or Varsity aged players on a decent soccer team can be playing over 80 games a year. Those teams playing in two or three leagues can be subjecting their players to an insane 3 games a weekend (PARENTS BEWARE).
- In addition to these 80 soccer games a similar number of Lax, Baseball or Basketball games can also be added.
- For all these games the young athletes sit through Hollywood type speeches designed to inspire effort presented by coaches at a loss as to why their players aren’t giving it their all.
- They live in a culture which makes it easy for them to believe that it is the coaches’ job to light the competitive fuse.
- Far too many parents reinforce the belief that the coach has failed if the effort is lacking helping their kids to believe it is not there problem.
I get reminded of the issues whenever I am out coaching as every time I walk past a coach giving a team talk they are either attempting to deal with a lack of commitment or effort or screaming at their players in an attempt to ignite the competitive fuse. I know we are all capable of the short term solution of raised voices and anger along with veiled threats about the amount of running at the next practice. We all can provide the short term fix that ultimately pleases the parents. I am equally aware that our kids can only listen to so many of these speeches a year before they switch off get bored by the whole event and stop playing.
I am frequent watcher and fan of the TED.com website and have watched many excellent TED TALKS ( I highly recommend Amy Cuddy Body language speech) and was somewhat amazed when I recently watched one on teaching grit by Angela Lee Duckworth. I think what amazed me most was the idea that grit has to be taught along with the realization that this now seems to be TRUE.
Director of Coaching Instruction