The coach as a teacher

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altius
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The coach as a teacher

Unread postby altius » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:22 am

A year or so ago there was some debate on PVP about the value of a teaching background for a track and field coach. This was never resolved but I feel that the following information may be of value for inexperienced coaches who do not have a teaching back ground. Al

Chapter Eleven: The coach as a Teacher “The barber learns his trade on the orphan’s chin.” Arabic Proverb

The above proverb sums up the process of becoming an expert in many fields of human endeavour; we suspect it is even true in neurosurgery! However we take the view that since there are very few ‘orphans’ in the world of pole vaulting, novice instructors must be prepared to become avid students of the instructional process if they are become effective coaches. Unfortunately many coaches, especially in the USA, feel that a teaching background is of little value to their effectiveness and so neglect this, the most critical of the processes that underpin the complex task of coaching.

Perhaps the biggest problem is a widespread tendency to assume that a positive, enthusiastic personality can substitute for an understanding of the theoretical areas of skill acquisition, growth and development and the theory and practice of instruction. The fact is that while positive personality traits are undoubtedly valuable, the challenging role of an instructor requires wide ranging knowledge along with skills that can only be gained through dedicated study and then honed through reflective experience. Novice instructors will inevitably make mistakes and we would suggest that is not unusual for many to learn their trade at the expense of several young athletes before they become competent.
The key to improvement is an ongoing reflective analysis of one’s performance. In this way mistakes are less likely to be repeated. The following outline of the knowledge and skills needed to become an effective instructor can provide a basis for that reflection.
The key factors in a good learning situation are: 1. The desire of the learner to improve. 2. The amount of practice they undertake. 3. The quality of that practice.
4. The relationship of that practice to the pole vault. 5. The enthusiasm, knowledge and skill of the coach

While they can be summed up by the trite phrase “Plenty of perfect, pertinent practice makes perfect”, each of these simple statements is the distilled essence of vast amounts of information, much of it confirmed by detailed research and expanded on by a multitude of books and academic papers.

While all are important, number four takes on a special significance in the pole vault if only because
this event seems to attract more inappropriate exercises and drills than any other discipline in track and field. Instructors must therefore understand and apply the principles of Transfer of training if they are to ensure that the exercises and drills they use have the desired effect of improving performance. These principles are:
1. There must be many common elements or similarities between any drill and the actual technique of pole vaulting.
2. These similarities, along with any major differences, must be pointed out to the learner when the drill is introduced so that they can see how it relates to the vault and can understand how it can help improve their performance. This is where the use of video film can help to give the learner a clearer picture of the whole activity.
3. Practice of a drill should be quickly followed by an attempt to apply the new elements to the actual vault, even if the learners are still not technically very good.
By understanding and applying these principles, coaches can ensure that their athletes will actually benefit from drills that highlight or even exaggerate specific elements of technique.
In addition, an understanding of the principles of transfer will enable a coach to recognise good drills and to assess their possible value. Above all they will be able to critique inappropriate drills and avoid using them in their program.

Because this book is especially intended to help beginning coaches, this chapter outlines the P’s of Perfect Pedagogy. This working model of instruction was developed by Alan over thirty years ago to help young student teachers begin to understand the fundamental principles of instruction. It has been taken up and applied by Australian coach education programs because it reduces the complexity of the global task of instruction and makes it more accessible to novice instructors. This is vital because instruction is the most important of the processes that underpin teaching and coaching the pole vault.
In this working model, each of the P’s represents an important element in the instructional process. By isolating them in this way each element can then be studied and mastered through reflective experience. As with many aspects of the coaches’ role, complete mastery may take several years.

The essential components of the P’s model of instruction are:
• PLAN the experience
Sound planning will ensure that a coach makes good use of the time available. While experienced instructors can do this almost subconsciously, novices may have to write down a list of the activities they intend to use and detail how much time they will allocate to each of them in a training session.
Coaches will find it valuable to use routines in their planning. For example a set warm up routine will free the coach to deal with the inevitable problems at the start of any practice session. A specific routine of basic drills; for example a sequence of 6 x 2, 6 x 4 or 6 x 6 step, stiff pole take offs into a sand pit will ensure a high volume of purposeful activity early in a session, even with a large number of athletes. The use of routines will also reduce the amount of time the coach spends in presenting the task and will allow them to concentrate on interacting with athletes and providing the feedback that is so essential to improvement.
• PREPARE the learning environment
Safety is always an issue in the pole vault, so as we suggested in Chapter Four, coaches should check the facilities and poles on a regular basis. Gymnastics equipment such as high bars, ropes and parallel bars should also be checked periodically.
Preparing the learning environment before a session starts is also important to ensure that no time is wasted. Even simple ideas such as putting length/ stiffness details in large figures at both the top and bottom of training poles will save considerable time at the beginning of practice, as will the idea of marking teaching poles with height lines.
• PREPARE the learner
There is ample evidence to confirm that the desire and determination of the athlete to improve is often the critical factor in their development. While this is an individual characteristic there is little doubt that the interpersonal skills of the coach can have a positive impact on an athlete’s attitude, especially
with beginners; a smile, a joke, almost any pleasant interaction can have a big effect on the way a youngster prepares for a session. Two other factors can have a major impact.
The first is the culture of the training group. If young athletes join a squad where the more senior athletes set an example of dedicated, thoughtful practice it is almost certain that novices will follow their example. Naturally the reverse is also true.
The second factor, and the key to motivating athletes of every level, is that they feel that practice tasks are enjoyable, challenging and achievable.
• PRESENT the practice task clearly and quickly
Ideally the instructor should explain,
• The specific technical objectives of a practice or drill.
• The cues that will help the athlete achieve those objectives.
• The way the practice itself is to be structured - for example, How many steps? What grip height? How many repetitions?
The pole vault presents specific problems because not every coach is or was a great pole vaulter. This means that many aspiring coaches are unable to demonstrate aspects of technique – this was certainly the case for Alan, whose personal best of 8’11” was set in his only attempt at the pole vault in his track and field course as a student at Loughborough College in England in1957! There he was handed a long steel pole and told to run and stick the pole in the wooden box and soar over the bar to land in the barely dug sand pit! While he managed to do just that, it was hardly an experience he wanted to repeat!
However it is possible for coaches with limited practical experience to resolve this problem without great difficulty. They now have access to a large range of visual aids, including hopefully the “Beginner to Bubka, and Isinbayeva too!” DVD that Alan has recently produced in cooperation with the talented Sean Brown of “Neovault”.
This DVD provides a detailed visual picture of the ideal technical model and of the recommended teaching sequence. In fact even before this became available, the authors never had to demonstrate anything beyond the first simple exercise of riding the pole into the pit from one step! From that point on even beginners can follow the simple progressions required to bridge the gap to elite level. It is important to note that this task gets easier as a squad builds up because it is possible to use the senior athletes as models and demonstrators.
Here it must be pointed out that more time is wasted by instructors presenting the task than in any other phase of instruction. Novice instructors in particular tend to talk too much! If a coach is in any doubt about this they should arrange to be timed with a stop watch to find out how much time they do spend in a session giving instructions and how much time the athletes are practising. If a coach finds that they spend a lot of time talking, they may need to practice key aspects of a presentation beforehand. In fact early in their career some instructors may need to prepare and rehearse a script to ensure that they get it right. This may seem extreme, but the instructional process is critical to successful coaching and Presenting the task is a vital part of that process.

Never forget that a picture is worth a thousand words. One of the advantages of a squad approach is that young athletes can learn a lot from the visual images provided by more experienced athletes, assuming of course that they are good models! The process by which this learning occurs, involving what are termed mirror neurons, is only just being recognised and is still not fully understood. Coaches are therefore well advised to have their inexperienced athletes watch older vaulters execute their drills and even on occasion to use them as assistant coaches. While some coaches may be able to demonstrate, research shows that novices will learn and gain confidence from watching fellow squad members execute a practice well.

Ideally, practice sessions should be supplemented by video analysis of the technique the instructor is aiming for, so that learners can understand how the various drills and practices they are doing relate to the whole activity. While there will always be some athletes who simply want to be told what to do at all times, our goal is to ensure that when an athlete retires, their understanding and knowledge of the vault is such that they could immediately take on a coaching role.
• Provide PLENTY of PRACTICE
If there is one single indicator of effective instruction, it is a simple analysis of how much time athletes actually spend practicing. In the end only plenty of perfect practice, not listening to the coach, will ensure improvement.
This means that coaches, especially those with large squads, must look carefully at how they structure a practice session. Vaulters will not improve by spending long periods on the runway waiting for their turn to jump. One solution of course is to have multiple pads and runways available; if this is not possible the coach may have to use a group approach with athletes rotating through a range of related activities, only one of which is actual vaulting onto a pad. This is also where a large sandpit is very valuable because it is possible to have up to three athletes doing drills into the pit at the same time. Another possibility is to stagger training times or to have a system where groups do their vaulting on different days.

However it is done, it must be done. Learning can only be done by the learner; the best way to learn to pole vault is to pole vault!
• Ensure that the practice is PERTINENT
There are thousands of exercises and drills for a coach to choose from. Full time athletes working with full time coaches probably have the time to use them all at some time in their career. However for those of us who have limited time to work with athletes, the key is to choose only those drills which will have the most direct impact on performance. In other words, those which are the most pertinent or appropriate for that particular athlete at that point in time. This is what we have tried to do in this book. It is always worth remembering that it takes an athlete time to learn a new drill, time which might be better spent refining one that they have already learned.
• Ensure that the practice is PURPOSEFUL
There is practice and there is practice! Motivated groups or individuals will almost invariably practice purposefully; that is, they will remain focused on carrying out the practice to the best of their ability and not allow themselves to be distracted. However this is not the norm for many youngsters, who are often the products of the ‘keep me entertained’ modern culture.
So instructors must rapidly change this culture. One way to ensure purposeful practice is to ensure that training tasks are varied, challenging and attainable. If training tasks are too difficult many youngsters may give up trying to master them; on the other hand if they are too easy, they will become bored and uncommitted. It takes a good instructor to find the balance.
• Ensure that the practice is PERFECT
There is little doubt that good coaches, like good
teachers, have high expectations. They communicate those expectations to their students and expect them to be met. The statement by J. Yahl, Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated, sums this up perfectly; it could well be the motto of all ambitious pole vaulters and their coaches.
In fact it is impossible to overestimate the importance of this statement. If youngsters are to master anything they must be encouraged to give their best at all times and aim for perfection in every task they attempt. Not only that, but coaches who stress the notion of striving for perfection will discover, often many years later, that this single idea was the most important thing that their athletes took away with them. Indeed anecdotal evidence suggests that it becomes a guiding force in everything they attempt in the rest of their lives.
Figure 11.2 Glynis Nunn
Figure 11.2 Shows Glynis Nunn, a perfectionist if ever there was one, working on one of her weaker events as she prepares for the Heptathlon in the Los Angeles Olympic Games.
• Make the practice PROGRESSIVE
It is very easy for a coach working with a large group to allow training to drift along into pointless repetition.
Practice should always be progressive and match the continued development of the athlete. This is an art because the instructor must decide when an athlete is ready to move to the next practice or drill. As we have suggested previously, progression which is too slow leads to stagnation and boredom on the part of the learner, while if it is too fast it may be taking the athlete into danger.

The coach must balance the introduction of new challenges with the need to revisit previously acquired elements of technique. This is especially important if overly rapid progress has caused a youngster to lose confidence. Taking them back to drills which they have already mastered, can give them a chance to catch their breath and rebuild their confidence prior to trying the new challenge again. As with many aspects of coaching, the ability to identify and resolve this issue will grow with experience.

• Provide "PHEEDBACK" on the athlete’s performance
Feedback is vital because practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. If you practice the wrong thing you will become better at doing the wrong thing! The key point here is that it is far more difficult to eradicate a fault than it is to learn to execute the movement properly in the first place. The sooner the athlete is put on the correct path the better. Unfortunately no matter how efficiently an instructor presents the task, an athlete’s early attempts are not always going to be perfect. The instructor must therefore watch every attempt and then provide the feedback needed to help the vaulter bring their performance more into line with the required model.
The notion of feedback is often confused with positive reinforcement or praise. While positive reinforcement is important and is usually linked with feedback, it is not the same thing. To make the distinction clear it may be worthwhile using the term technical feedback, although it is worth noting that in the academic world this is termed augmented feedback. This is feedback which contains specific information about the athlete’s performance and makes it crystal clear what has been done well, what needs to be improved or changed and how this is to be done. The more specific this feedback is, the more likely it is that the athlete will improve. That said, feedback in the form of positive reinforcement is an absolutely critical component of good instruction.

Technical feedback can be provided in the form of specific verbal cues, by the instructor demonstrating the movement again, or by athletes watching a videotape of their performance. Feedback can even be provided by manual manipulation, where the instructor puts the athlete into position and then manually corrects what they are doing. This can
be especially valuable during the plant phase and at the point of take off. Here the ‘good way – bad way’ method can be used. The athlete is allowed to take up the position they feel is correct – but which is not - and then the instructor moves them into the correct position. This is repeated several times. Strange as it may seem the research evidence suggests that it works!
Because feedback often implies that the athlete is doing something ‘wrong’ it is important to precede any critical comment with an empathetic statement. So a coach might say “That was a pretty good effort – but WE need to improve this part drill/vault so I would like you to focus on ...... “, “This is what we must do.....”. Naturally this must be followed by very precise and pertinent advice as to what
the athlete should/could do.

Here it must be emphasised that there is little point in telling athletes what they have just done – unless it is immediately followed by a clear statement of what to focus on in the next attempt. It is also important to remember the notion that “what is technically desirable must be physically possible” for there is little point is asking an athlete to carry out a movement pattern which is beyond their ability at that point in time.
• Ensure that practice is PLAYFUL
One of the great myths of sports coaching is that every element of training must be undertaken with great seriousness and commitment. Of course there are times when the athlete must focus and commit themselves totally to mastery. However human beings are essentially playful animals so coaches must be aware of the need to introduce enjoyment and even fun into training if they are to keep athletes of any age – but especially young beginners - positively involved and on task. While the personality and demeanor of the coach can play a major role a good balance between demanding and fun activities will help.
• PACE every practice
Pacing plays an important role in keeping athletes on task. It involves a balance between getting it right and maintaining the level of motivation necessary to ensure purposeful practice. Good pacing ensures that practices and drills do not drag on to the point where athletes lose interest. Remember the law of diminishing returns.
So the instructor must always be aware of the need for variety and providing new challenges. Every experienced coach knows that even the most jaded or experienced athlete will perk up when a new idea or drill is introduced into the training regime. The secret is to watch for the tiny signals that the athletes are becoming bored; a drop off in the quality of performance is an obvious indicator but this is often preceded by increasing levels of chatter and negative behaviour. This means that a coach must stay aware of the mood of a group and be prepared to change direction: always remembering that the
carrot is always more effective than the whip!
• PRAISE performance
Praise, or positive reinforcement as it is more formally termed, is important in improving performance, especially with beginners. Remember that while elite performers are goal oriented and may be prepared to accept extreme levels of constructive criticism if it will help them attain their goals, beginners are already nervous simply because they are trying something new. They need constant positive reinforcement if they are to persist, far less improve.
Positive reinforcement can take many forms, from the simple well done or good job, to small tokens such as the jelly beans given out by the great Indiana University swim coach ‘Doc’ Counsilman. He believed that personal bests should always be recognised in training as well as in competition. In South Australia we took this idea, and awarded candy pythons every time an athlete achieved a personal best.
We have also found that an annual Awards night is a very effective form of praise because it recognises a whole years effort. We have a range of awards from the very serious which recognise performances up to Olympic level, to the quite frivolous which remind everyone of the quirky things people did or the strange situations which arose. Every athlete, and often each of the coaches, gets an award of some kind.
One of the most interesting is “The soft as melted butter award”, which no one wants to receive because it is awarded to the athlete who managed the biggest failure during the year! Naturally this has to be handled with some sensitivity but we can put the award into perspective when we point out that the first recipient, Simon Arkell, who received it for no heighting at his first two national titles, went on to win a Commonwealth Gold Medal and set both Commonwealth and National records! Equally significant he gained a Track scholarship to the University of New Mexico and in his senior year finished third in the NCAA Championships.

Employ POSITIONING and PROXIMITY to maintain high levels of commitment from your athletes.
Positioning is one of the most important skills of
CHAPTER ELEVEN
The Coach as a Teacher 97
instruction. A coach must be able to SEE what is happening: equally important they must be seen ‘to be with it’. They must know what is going on at all times in order to prevent small negative interactions, which are inevitable when adolescent boys are trying to outdo each other, from escalating into showdowns and stupidity.
Part of this skill is what we have termed the skill of Proximity. The good instructor makes sure that they move around a group in such a way that they are close enough for one on one interactions to occur. This can have a major impact on the performance of every individual.
• Provide EMPATHY
The struggle towards excellence in the pole vault is often long and hard. There will be many failures along the way, both large and small. The coach must always try to understand the problem from the athlete’s perspective and support them when the going is tough. As we suggested above, use simple strategies such as saying, “WE need to ---- -“ rather than “YOU need to” and praising what is good about a performance before suggesting what needs to be improved – “That was so much better that the last one – NOW let’s try to -----“!
• Encourage athletes to practice IN THE BRAIN!
While it is impossible to learn a complex physical skill without actually practicing it, there is considerable evidence to suggest that when a physical skill such as pole vaulting has been learned it can be reaffirmed and reinforced through a process called mental rehearsal. Given that all learning is done in the brain, this is not as strange a concept as it may seem at first sight. In fact there is evidence to suggest that mental imagery can produce the same nerve impulses as produced when the vaulter actually performs the event.
So mental rehearsal can both speed up and reinforce any aspect of the learning process. This has many benefits. It allows the athlete to practice at any time, for example when they are injured or when bad weather prevents training. In addition mental practice is far less physically draining than the real thing.
The vaulter should therefore include visualisation of the event in their training. They can focus on a• Encourage athletes to practice IN THE BRAIN!
While it is impossible to learn a complex physical skill without actually practicing it, there is considerable evidence to suggest that when a physical skill such as pole vaulting has been learned it can be reaffirmed and reinforced through a process called mental rehearsal. Given that all learning is done in the brain, this is not as strange a concept as it may seem at first sight. In fact there is evidence to suggest that mental imagery can produce the same nerve impulses as produced when the vaulter actually performs the event.
So mental rehearsal can both speed up and reinforce any aspect of the learning process. This has many benefits. It allows the athlete to practice at any time, for example when they are injured or when bad weather prevents training. In addition mental practice is far less physically draining than the real thing.
The vaulter should therefore include visualisation of the event in their training. They can focus on a specific element of technique or they can run the entire performance through their mind. Of course the better an athlete knows their event, the better they can image and feel it and the more benefit they will gain from mental rehearsal.
Finally instructors must understand that human beings do not always require, or even benefit from, great amounts of information as they try to master a new task. The human brain/body has evolved as a problem solving entity and often only requires is a clear understanding of the task it faces. It will then set about solving the problem or mastering the challenge it faces with little or no outside assistance. This is where the repetition of basic challenges, such as jumping over a gradually raised bar from 2, 4, 6 or 8 steps will lead the athlete towards mastery even if little information is provided by the coach.
• THE NEVERS
Never use exercise such as running laps or doing press ups as a punishment; remember that as coaches we are trying to sell a culture of the physical. Never:
• Be sarcastic.
• Publicly embarrass an athlete.
• Tell an athlete to do something they are not capable of doing.
• Forget that humor is an important component of teaching.
• Lose your desire to help young people to improve.
Remember that this is only an outline of a very complex process. However our experience suggests that even this outline can provide a useful base on which to build a more comprehensive understanding of the instructional process. Remember also that it takes plenty of perfect practice to become a perfect instructor! Certainly the author looks back ruefully on a long career riddled with mistakes; the only consolation being that he learned a lot from them.
Its what you learn after you know it all that counts. John Wooden

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Re: The coach as a teacher

Unread postby grandevaulter » Wed Oct 03, 2012 12:24 pm

Great piece Altius,

When I read over your drill segment, I was reminded of my second week of practice. Our school did not have a pole vault coach prior to my arrival. Once I volunteered, along came the band wagon of pole vault experts. ( They still pop up ) The physics teacher with a formal education background and a pole vault history came out to give me a hand. Immediately he started the kids on a leg left leg sweep drill. ( just about the time I had the kids taking off on the correct leg). The result was a minor set back because the kids started to take off on their wrong leg. He also brought out a 6 foot long piece of copper tubing that he demonstrated the pull and turn. ( I didn't have one kid that could get inverted yet). A pull and turn drill was months premature in my opinion. This falls under too much information in the wrong order.

Are you implying that a formal education back ground is essential to good teaching ?

Grande

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Re: The coach as a teacher

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:23 pm

My opinion is that a formal education background is nice, but not always necessary. The ability to communicate effectively what you want athletes to do, and being able to come up with ways to get there, comes more naturally to some people than others.

I grew up in gymnastics. I had a LOT of different coaches. I took a fair number of coaching/education classes in college, and I can't say I learned anything that I didn't already know intuitively based on my experience. I also have had a LOT of pole vault coaches, and have been able to see a wide variety of ways to skin a cat, and ways to NOT skin a cat.

The majority of PV coaches I know are male and do not have a gymnastics background. Some are excellent at teaching progressions and communication and some are not.

Ultimately to be a good PV coach you have to have a solid understanding of the pole vault, know appropriate progressions for the athletes you are working with, and be able to communicate effectively with your athletes.

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Re: The coach as a teacher

Unread postby dj » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:41 pm

hye

doesn't hurt to have a "teaching" mind....

one: an understanding of the event... from an "application of force" stand point

two: progressive overload

three: "SAID" …… "Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands"

always lot at the "why" the best do things a curtain way... understand and copy...


dj

grandevaulter
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Re: The coach as a teacher

Unread postby grandevaulter » Wed Oct 03, 2012 10:31 pm

The beginning of Al's piece mentioned that there was a discussion about teachers being coaches. I read those threads and I think all but one were school teachers. In most cases teachers get first crack at the job advertisements before they are offered outside the schools. Naturally most high school coaches are teachers.

Many coaches that come in from outside the school ( non school teachers) make mistakes and give non school teaching coaches a bad name. They don't understand the rules and politics that go on inside most school systems and their sports programs. ( or they are the victims of communist plots)

However the pole vault is not such a common sport ( Not every teacher has picked up a pole, hauled down the approach and soared into the air or would know where to start). Most have thrown a football and or dribbled a basketball and played pick up games of both. Many teachers and parents are experts in the ball sports because they watch them on television. Most schools do not have one teacher in their staff that has vaulted or even knows much about it. ( I wonder what the viewing ratings are for the NCAA championships, Big 10, Prefontaine Classic or any other major meet). So we don't have to be concerned about Monday morning quarterback pole vault coaches. I forgot to mention the Olympics, they acutually covered many of the vaults.

I think "passion" is another "p" word that is important along with the other tools that have been suggested on these threads.

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Re: The coach as a teacher

Unread postby altius » Wed Oct 03, 2012 11:40 pm

grandevaulter wrote:. Many teachers and parents are experts in the ball sports because they watch them on television.


I think "passion" is another "p" word that is important along with the other tools that have been suggested on these threads.
Absolutely - in my latest book on the teaching of sports I do stress the importance of passion!


Not too sure about the first statement though - if that were so, 70% of all kids who start playing sports in the US would not quit by the age of 13. The problem there is that in community sport even fewer of the coaches have a teaching background.
Its what you learn after you know it all that counts. John Wooden

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Re: The coach as a teacher

Unread postby grandevaulter » Thu Oct 04, 2012 8:37 am

altius wrote:
grandevaulter wrote:. Many teachers and parents are experts in the ball sports because they watch them on television.


I think "passion" is another "p" word that is important along with the other tools that have been suggested on these threads.
Absolutely - in my latest book on the teaching of sports I do stress the importance of passion!


Not too sure about the first statement though - if that were so, 70% of all kids who start playing sports in the US would not quit by the age of 13. The problem there is that in community sport even fewer of the coaches have a teaching background.


70% is a staggering statistic. Would we say that 99% of all kids that don't advance from the high school level to the collegiate level should connect the problem to coaches that have formal teaching backgrounds. I would say not. Many coaches at all levels are short sighted and are unable to inspire athletes to move forward.

Next "P" word is parent. A parent that has the interest and time to devote to their child to practice at home, not quit, support the athlete and the coach is large. A parent should emphasize the vision.


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