Youth sports training with kids
You could open an interesting debate with respect to teaching sporting skills to kids.
I did last week during a presentation I gave to area basketball coaches.
Some trainers and coaches have decided that the skills required to achieve a certain task should be taught from the beginning.
Others believe in the concept of motor patterning – allowing the young athlete to find his or her own way of achieving a task.
The debate gets even trickier when you factor in the varying nuances and therefore objectives of different sports.
For example, in basketball, if the ball goes in the hoop, it doesn’t really matter how it got there.
But in diving, you know going in that once you jump off the platform, gravity will pull you into the water – the style in which you get there is all that really matters.
Where do you sit on this debate?
I asked the coaches in my audience the same question.
Should you teach or over-teach a certain style of execution to young athletes from day one, or should you allow the young athletes to learn the relative motor patterning via exploration and natural refinement?
The actual answer falls in line with a concept that I discuss constantly in my newsletter.
You have to have a system.
Effectively and safely developing a young athlete is not something that you can do in one practice or one training session at a time.
You must have a direction-based path that extends over several months or years.
This path must, of course, be dynamic in nature, but a "system of development" is what is lacking globally in the youth sports world at large.
Let me explain this by using the example of "form vs. outcome" as discussed above.
The central nervous system of a young person is very plastic – meaning i is explorative by nature and extremely sensitive to new stimulus.
The old adage "you can’t teach an old dog new tricks" really does have merit when it comes to learning the skills of a sporting task. The older you are when you experience a new motor skill, the less likely you will be able to cultivate that skill in an optimal way.
But, as a child, your ability to learn new skills and solve motor tasks is quite high.
The essence of this reality, however, is founded on the notion of free exploration. Kids seem to learn the best when they are given nothing more than loose instructions on how to accomplish a task, and then allowed to work at solving the objective in their own way.
This is especially true when the form of execution of the skill in question is not a critical as the outcome.
And this is the crux of the debate.
As you know, I am a huge proponent of teaching young athletes proper execution-based foundations…
…And here’s where the audience of coaches started challenging me.
"This doesn’t make sense, Brian"
"You are known as the guy who preaches about teaching first"
"Agree", I said. "But what do I always equate that to?"
"Training young athletes", the coach responded.
"Exactly! TRAINING young athletes. That is substantially different than COACHING young athletes to perform the skills of certain sports."
I went on to explain the difference.
"When I teach a squat, the outcome doesn’t matter to me. In fact, I think it matters TOO MUCH to most trainers.
"Too many trainers focus on how much they can get a young athletes to lift – all I care about it that they lift it well. The amount of force they can produce will be both proportional to and synergistic with how well they perform the movement."
The coaches were starting to get it.
"Shooting a basketball is not a form-based event, though. It’s an outcome-based event."
"You just lost me", responded the coach.
"Okay, look at it this way. Does anyone grade or evaluate the way a young athlete shoos a basketball?"
"Then all that really matters is that the ball goes in the hoop. You get two points for a successful outcome, and there is no scoring system in place that either adds points or takes them away based on the execution of that shot, is there?
"Then shooting a basketball successfully is nothing more than an outcome-based event."
"Are you saying that we should not be teaching how to shoot a basketball? Just let the kids have at it any way they want?"
"No. Learning the proper execution of a skill as it related to motor tasks such as shooting a basketball, throwing a baseball or hitting a tennis ball with a racquet are important to eventual success, but the style with which you do those things are directly related to solving those motor tasks," I countered.
And herein, my friend, is where I made the coaches finally understand everything…
"If you tell a young athlete that the goal is to make a basket, throw a baseball right over the plate or return a volley over the net, but at the same time tell them how they should do it, all you end up doing is confusing the young athlete in terms of what the actual goal of the event is."
‘Goal confusion’ is a term coined by researchers (Gentile, 1972) which explains the ‘form versus outcome’ debate.
It also forms the basis of the groundwork for the ‘system of development’ I referenced above.
Athletes as young as 6 and 7 are being taught and over-taught the specific skills and nuances of how to perform various sporting skills in youth leagues, camps and clinics the world-over.
And this is tragically counter-productive.
When training or coaching young athletes, you must understand and then categorize how you will introduce them to certain sporting skills.
More often than not, your task will be to tell them the outcome of what you are looking for and stave off your desire to teach them the form of how to accomplish it.
By creating only outcome-based events and exercises for young athletes and allowing them the freedom to solve the task on their own recourse, you will be fostering and enhancing their globalized athletic ability and taking advantage of the extreme adaptability of their central nervous system.
Over time, it will be necessary to change the goals or objectives of your practices or training sessions into more form-based events in which you begin to refine and improve the execution of the motor task.
And in a nutshell, that is the ‘system of development’.
Understand the importance of free discovery and its impact on the central nervous system.
Create less confusion in your young athletes life by remaining either form or outcome-based with your practices and training sessions.
“O.K. Now that makes sense”, the coaches agreed.