In this second part, we will explore some ways that we as coaches, PE teachers, and trainers can contribute to solving the problems of exclusion and bullying.
What IS the Solution?
The solution seems fairly obvious to me. Find ways to mix competition with cooperation. Instead of choosing your young athletes based on their perceived potential, be about the business of helping all kids enjoy sports. When you see these ego-driven, bullying / dominance situations – discuss this with kids. Ask the right questions to help them understand implications. Do I as a coach or trainer truly understand competition? Do I realize that if there is true competition, we want everyone else to have the same advantages? Otherwise, it seems there is never a true competition.
Where We Come In
We are the guides. Instead of thinking about lessons to be taught, we can think of lessons to be learned. This requires sometimes asking questions instead of making statements.
Learning to Interact
To help guide kids away from the behaviors that lead to exclusion and bullying, we can design our programs to address certain behaviors in such a way that helps kids learn the consequences themselves. Putting them in situations where these things may happen (not that we are hoping they do), can better build their own concept of the relationships between behavior and consequence.
Specific Value of Physical Play
Many schools and facilities have tried to outlaw physical play, especially the variety that requires children to touch one another, or pull, push and shove. This thinking may actually be backwards. The fact is, anything the brain is to do, especially with regard to higher order functions like thought and social interaction – it must learn to do. Sure I have seen things get out of control in dodge ball games, and tag. It is this rough and tumble play that first gives us the ability to explore the possibility of adverse, hierarchical interactions. In other words, sometimes kids will bully and gang up on each other. They will form cliques and ridicule others. This is a great opportunity to explore this behavior and its consequences with the kids. Also, because it is FUN, then the pressure isn’t so life or death! Of course, the coach is responsible for making sure the FUN factor is in fact there.
Empathy through Play
When someone gets tagged too hard, or picked on, it’s obvious visually, unlike the subtle verbal comments and texting that may occur during and after school hours. Now, since we’ve seen an obvious physical behavior, we can explore questions like: “How would that have made you feel?” “What could you have done differently?”
Infinite Games – No Ego Required
Infinite games are those that allow children to explore a skill / set of skills without the question of hierarchy or dominance, as is the case in organized sports and purely competitive situations.
An example is taking tug of war and instead of having one team win; having the teams provide resistance for one another with the goal of keeping the game going. Why end something this fun? End it when you get tired!
Kids, quite frankly, don’t need you to tell them everything. Would anyone think of training an executive to run a corporation by telling them exactly how to perform each task and make each decision? The Art of Coaching is not about telling, but about facilitating an exploration.
If we simply tell the child to “stop it”, they will likely continue the behavior after we are no longer present. If we help the young learner explore the effects of his / her behavior and the reasons that it is helpful or destructive, then this will help develop the ability internally to consider this behavior in the future. It’s really that simple!
Dr. Kwame M. Brown, Ph.D., YFS2, CSCS