Monday, October 27, 2014

Is Your Child Ready for a Key Team Role? (Part 2)

   Here's the second in a three part series on how and why certain kids get to play key positions such as point guard, pitcher, and quarterback. In this post, we take a look at how organized sports and coaches impact your child's opportunity to develop the necessary skills to play a key role.

Having provided some general background on who gets to play the key positions and why, let's move on and discuss how youth coaches impact your child's development.

How organized sports help (and hinder) development

At the earliest ages, kids are taught fundamental skills by adults—often by volunteer coaches who both enjoy the sport and understand how to play and teach it. Under their guidance, every child ideally has an equal opportunity to play each position.

But as the examples in the previous post illustrate, youth sports are structured play involving interaction between the team’s participants. Sometimes it may be necessary for a coach to play certain children more at a given position to achieve any development of team play.

Youth coaches face another obstacle with their youngest players. Because of their inexperience, these children may struggle to learn one position and associated skills, let alone multiple positions. For these children, a coach may believe it’s in their best developmental interest to focus on a single role for the current season.

As a child develops and gains experience, he or she may begin to demonstrate abilities to play a key position. But an underlying characteristic of most participation-based programs is that kids of different ages, sizes, skill levels, and innate athletic ability, are grouped together. Expectations of what makes up a "fun" and successful experience vary. Although a child may have developed some skills, he or she may still be underperforming relative to other children and the level of competition. And playing a child who is overmatched at a key position invites failure for both the child and the team. With limited practice time and the importance of certain roles to a team's opportunity to succeed, it's simply unrealistic for a coach in the typical youth program to provide every child with equal time at the key positions.

As the above paragraphs highlight, there are barriers in organized youth sports that may work against your child’s opportunity to play an important role and position.

But organized sports can provide your child with the instruction needed to play that “glory” position. Your child may quickly assimilate this knowledge and become his or her team’s point guard, quarterback or pitcher. So let’s now discuss the coach’s role in developing your child’s ability.

What to expect from your child’s coach

Your child will benefit most from a coach who uses the Teach Everyone Everything (TEE™) approach in practices. This coach teaches all of the fundamental skills to every kid on his or her team. This instruction incorporates both the demonstration of a skill and the equal opportunity in practice for each child to practice the associated technique (usually via a drill). Through this means, every child is provided the skill instruction that is required to play any position in the game. This does not mean that each child receives equal time at every position in practice scrimmages or games. Your child may still only play a relatively minor role on his or her team. But through the TEE approach, every child does receive the instruction that can unlock their potential to play any position.

Your child’s coaches should always look for opportunities to challenge your child. There are sometimes opportunities in practices and games where a coach can give kids a taste of playing a key role. And for the occasional child who develops quickly, a coach should expand the child’s team role during the course of the season.

One of the most important characteristic to look for in your child’s coach is his or her ability to create a fun environment that inspires your child to want to play the game, learn more, and practice. In the end, it’s your child’s natural abilities, desire, and acquired skills that determine what position your child plays. But a coach who opens your child’s eye to his or her potential is an important factor—especially for those children who may not be as athletically gifted.

If you feel that a coach is not giving your child an opportunity to fully develop his or her talent, you may be asking yourself, "Do I have any other options?" In next week's article, we'll finish this series by looking at how pickup games and the choices you make can improve your child's opportunity to learn a sport in a way the maximizes his or her chance to play a key role.

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Is Your Child Ready for a Key Team Role? (Part 1)

   Here's the first post in a three-part series on how and why certain kids get to play key positions such as point guard, pitcher, and quarterback. In this series, we'll cover the importance of primary roles to a team's success, the skills a child needs to develop to play key positions, and also touch on the fairness issue of playing time.

A while back, a parent posted a comment and asked, “How does my child develop expertise in an important role unless a coach is willing to rotate the player roles?” This is a fair question. Parents recognize that more attention is often focused on the athletes who play the key positions on their team. And when parents see the same kids continually playing the primary roles, they may feel it’s unfair that their child is not afforded the same opportunity.

So let’s take a closer look at why certain kids play the “glory” positions, whether this is unfair to other children, and how you can help improve your child’s opportunity to play an important team role such as quarterback, pitcher, or point guard.

Who plays the key positions and why

Success in team sports often hinges on the performance at key positions. In the NFL, it’s understood that having a “franchise” quarterback substantially improves the odds for a team to reach the Super Bowl. Championship basketball teams often have a dominant center, talented point guard, or both. Excellent hockey and soccer teams usually have forwards who can score and an outstanding goalie.

In competitive youth sports, the same principle holds true. Because youth leagues often bring together children of different age groups, the effect of dominant players in key positions is substantial. A team lacking talent at these positions will likely not compete for the league championship.

Participation-oriented youth programs usually require skilled players to occupy certain roles—not just to engage in balanced, fun competition, but to also achieve some semblance of teamwork and opportunity to play the game in a way that benefits all of the team’s players.

Placing a young football player at the quarterback position, when he has neither the strength nor accuracy to make a downfield throw, will not benefit the more experienced receivers on the team. A young baseball pitcher who can’t throw the ball over the plate will walk player after player, ruining the game for his or her teammates. And a point guard in basketball who has difficulty dribbling will continually turn the ball over to the other team. His or her teammates will never touch the ball, become frustrated, and lose interest in playing (no fun).

So even in participation oriented youth programs, there are valid reasons for coaches placing their more accomplished child athletes in certain positions. (But at this level of play, there are usually opportunities to give a less-skilled child a taste of playing a key position.)

Individual factors that lead to success

Gaining expertise at a key position, and developing the necessary skills to play the associated team role well, is a process that develops over time and with a number of influences. A child’s natural athleticism, interest in playing sports, age and size relative to others, all affect a child’s overall ability to play a key position. These factors are often also the ones that determine how far an athlete can climb up the ladder of competitive success. But for many children, these factors vary throughout the developmental years. The youngest child of course becomes the oldest at some point, a change often accompanied by increased physical stature and ability.

The other main influence on a child’s ability to play a key position is the set of skills a child has mastered. Although natural physical ability is certainly helpful, many important sport skills are learned. And through practice and repetition, these skills are mastered. There are many examples of physically inferior athletes who have enjoyed enormous success because they both understood their position and mastered the requisite skill techniques.

How does a child begin the process of learning these essential skills? Today’s parents usually expect organized youth sports programs to provide the instruction and initial opportunity for their child.

In next week's article, we'll look at how organized sports and a child’s coach impact the development of your child’s ability to play a key position.

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)