Coaches, when you were 8, 9, 10 years old, think about what you wanted from sports. Chances are you probably wanted to spend time with your friends, have fun playing & improving, and it was certainly nice when you got a nice confidence boost from your coach or your parents.
In a Jump Start I session, what is the parent typically looking for their child to work on? Coordination, core strength, speed, & quickness. That’s fine. We can certainly help a young child improve on the field. But in a lot of cases, we have to earn the right to truly reach that child. What does the athlete want? They want to have a great time, they probably want to move, and they definitely want positive attention.
An issue came up recently with our staff about a couple of “problem” kids in Jump Start. Young children that took away from the group, distracted the others, and made it much more challenging to teach the more focused kids in class. I always think we have to reframe the issue when, as coaches, we think that we have a “problem” kid in class. It is OUR responsibility as coaches to deliver a great session and reach each child we come in contact with. How can WE change OUR frame of mind to accommodate that child’s needs?
Step 1: Get to know them
This is the most important aspect to individualizing how you work with each child in a Jump Start class. Today, we might educate ourselves a bit on what goes on in an 8-10 year old’s world. Are they playing Minecraft or Fortnite? What YouTube shows are cool? What was the most fun thing they did in school today? Sometimes stepping back from why they see us – sports performance – can help you get on another level with them and show them you are real and you care.
I once had a very challenging child in our Jump Start program. He had some issues that his parents shared with me. Everything he would do would look lazy. He would act out for the entire class and even sometimes smack me on the arm or leg in protest. Instead of yelling at a 9 year old, I noticed that a few classes in, he was wearing a Minecraft t-shirt. So I asked him about it and his eyes lit up. He wouldn’t stop talking, and his tone was positive for the first time. Each water break, I kept asking him and encouraging the conversation. Soon, he began actually listening to me and performing the drills with some focus. The next class, he brought in a foam Minecraft sword. Instead of hitting me with it, as he may have done in the past, he ran with it. And he ran hard. He was hooked.
Step 2: Give respect and ask for respect
I hate when I hear a coach yell at a Jump Start class, expecting them to act like adults. When coaching Jump Start, we should realize that one hour of focused training can be really challenging for kids that age, especially when they come to us after school.
Carefully plan out your sessions and allow for plenty of time between sets for “getting to know each other” time. As a coach, you need to be prepared. You need to set clear expectations that when it’s time to work, we’re working. And if a child is acting out, calmly ask for them to sit on the side and let you know when they are ready to be a part of the group. No yelling. No hurting that child’s confidence. No making them feel inferior or as if this is a negative experience. This is positive. They can be a part of it, or they can hang out if they need. They have a choice.
I’ve had children that are just having a bad day, and need 15 minutes to chill and just watch what’s going on. Embrace them during water breaks and ask how you can help them have a great class.
Step 3: Always have fun
Rome was not built in a day. Clearly state that to the parents of your athletes when they sign up. Work on improving a young athlete’s technique, but always remember to live to fight another day. If we force technique on an 8 year old, they will eventually stop having fun, and maybe even fight their parents about coming in to train. Fix their technique, let them run, let them play games, don’t punish the overweight kid or the worst athlete in the group for coming in last during a drill. That moment could change their whole lives. Give them confidence. Give them fun.
Coaching is not about you. It is about the lives of hundreds or even thousands of children you will come in contact with as a Parisi coach. Patience is king. Truly care about these kids, follow these steps, and be patient every step of the way, and you will be a successful coach. That might mean pay raises and promotions, but most of all, it means positively impacting a child and affecting their world.