I do quite a bit* of coaching with younger children, 7 and younger, right down to weekly groups with 3-4 year olds. Sessions can be messy, they can be loud, sometimes they must look pretty chaotic.
In truth, I really do quite enjoy the chaos (sometimes). I’ll let activities run on, if the players are engaging in some sort of “constructive” play.
Probably the most frequent feedback I receive, from parents and fellow coaches, regards “patience” — how I must have incredible depths of patience to work with the young groups, how much the children enjoy the freedom they get to play and learn.
And I also get the counter-statement — “it’s OK to be firmer with the kids, if they misbehave” (i.e. “you really are too patient, sometimes”).
But I am slowly coming to the conclusion that patience by itself might not be the virtue that it is held up as.
Don’t get me wrong. Patience certainly does matter.
Coaches can’t expect young children to line up and take turns for more than a few minutes, without the games breaking down. If a game or drill needs to run for longer, the coach will sometimes just have to put up with some disruption to the ideal we see in the videos from the ECB CA.
And coaches cannot be forever stopping sessions to demand compliance.
I hate seeing young players “sat out” of a session — I want them playing, learning, socialising, not “taking a time-out to think about their actions”. So I’ll sometimes have players on their 3rd or 4th “final” warning.
But when patience trends into (or is perceived to be) acceptance of mis-behaviour, or complacency, it can only leads to more mis-behaviour.
“It doesn’t matter what they do, so long as they are having fun.”
“Boys [and it is, almost invariably, boys] will be boys.”
Coaches need more than patience alone.
So. What might be a better strategy for coaches to adopt?
There is a lot to be said for getting to know the players you coach, both as individuals but, possibly more importantly, collectively.
Why don’t kids “get” drills? Why do they want to be playing rather than practicing? What motivates children (especially u7s) to join in, to enjoy the entirely artificial constraints of “organised sport”. There are some excellent resources available on this topic, some of which I have mentioned in this blog previously.
See, for example, thoughts on the making the sport fit the child, rather than the child fit the sport, and giving kids what they want and what they need (both inspired by the iCoachKids project), and some fascinating research into what really constitutes FUN in youth sport from Amanda Visek.
Let the game keep the players engaged
But beyond understanding, the coach needs to find a way to work with the children, to coach the player, not the skill.
Ways of designing acivities so that the “learning” element is wrapped up in more palatable “games”, techniques to manipulate the environment (physical, social, psychological, even) to influence behaviours.
That sounds difficult (and sometimes it is), but it is not impossible. It does take some preparation — knowing the group, and the individuals, helps, but having the right activities in mind can be as important.
That means deploying games that conceal skill challenges and that encourage (and reward) problem solving and the successful application of skills that transfer to the “real” game.
Repeat the games over several weeks — once to learn the game, once to work out how to “win”, and at least once more so the players can actually try competing to win.
Lots of inclusion, lots of chances, in-built or player-selected differentiation. So small-sided games (3v3 or 4v4, if you have the space). Hit a target zone and release one batter in Jailbreak, hit an even smaller target release every one in jail.
Bowl from close and take out one stump when you hit the wickets or bowl from further away and take out two for every hit — see Knock ‘em down.
Jeopardy — there should be some sanction for “failure” — not too strong (so never “if you’re out, you’re out”) — or the players won’t feel the need to strive for success, nor enjoy it when it comes.
It can be done.
And it is a lot of fun trying — for the players and the coach.
So the title of this article might be a little too blunt.
Maybe better to say that patience, by itself, is over-rated and much misunderstood.
Patience alone is not enough. It needs to be tempered by understanding, and a strategy to mould behaviours, not ostracise miscreants.
*Perhaps an average of 6-7 hours per week, 10 weeks/term, 3 terms each year, coming up to 5 years after Easter 2019 — approaching 1,000 hours in total.
I have been getting this wrong for far too long!