Monday, August 2, 2010

Provide Team Structure

An effective youth coach provides his players with a basic foundation of team structure. This typically takes the form of offensive and defensive sets/formations, plays, and practice drills.

I've described in previous posts how beginners benefit from assigned roles and a simplified framework in which they can contribute and succeed. In much the same way, but at a higher level, your players will benefit from a shared team structure.

Most children respond best in an environment that provides both a secure “home base” and opportunities to explore new ground, gain fresh experiences, and learn more advanced skills. The comfort zone of team structure reduces uncertainty and can provide a wellspring of fallback behaviors that can win the day in difficult, stressful circumstances. Team structure also helps instill a sense of order and discipline that innately appeals to most young athletes. You should remember that part of the appeal of youth sports to children is that these activities are structured fun.

At the beginning of each practice and game, your players should automatically follow established warm-up routines. Not only do these structured activities help a player loosen up, but they also help the child enter into the proper mental state of readiness for the upcoming practice or game.

Coaches differ greatly on their offensive philosophy. Some believe in scripting every movement within plays while other coaches support a more unstructured, read and react “freelance” approach. Even if you let your players freelance within an offense, you should provide an offensive set (formation) to initiate the play sequence. In addition, provide some basic plays for your team. These sets and plays represent a team structure that your players can fall back to in difficult game situations.

As you teach teamwork and team skills, remember that you are always creating structure. You are weaving a connective arrangement of behaviors and outcomes. The more effective your instruction, the stronger these connections will become. This, in turn, will build a sense within your players of having control over their environment. They will grasp how a certain stimulus evokes a certain response. They will develop confidence that their knowledge provides them with a resource to handle even the most difficult moments in a game. And finally, they will have a base of structured understanding that will prepare them to learn even more.

Be careful to avoid overuse of structure and set plays as this can inhibit your players’ personal development. Ultimately, you want to teach your players self-reliance. You want them to have the capacity to fully react and adapt to new situations on their own. For many boys and girls participating in youth sports, the best outcome is the ability to continue playing and enjoying their sport well into their adult years. If you can provide this knowledge, you have done well.

Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


Dan said...

You make great points. A structured FUN environment while the players are young and learning the fundamentals will yield positive results later.

-- Dan
Fastpitch Softball Coaching

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