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Article from Coaching Edge Winter 2013: Shooting Star
In its various forms, the ‘uber-doting’ mentality exhibited towards today’s youngsters seems logical on the surface. Yet managers in football and business are questioning the skills and capabilities of the younger generation.
Drawing similarities between parents and coaches is easy: Parents want their children to grow up feeling loved and happy in an uncertain world of real (or perceived) dangers and intense competition for jobs. Coaches want their players to feel valued and important.
Parents and coaches may feel compelled to interfere in order to ensure young people have every possible advantage in life. Their misguided distrust of other parents, coaches and society’s institutions drives them to over protect. They overestimate the influence they themselves have on development, potentially developing young people who do not have the resources to deal with the demands the world throws at them.
There is a tendency for coaches and parents to ignore a child’s requirement to develop individually and to recognise that nature along with the correct nurture are essential ingredients for reaching potential. The compulsion to intervene becomes even stronger when parents and coaches view their offspring as surrogates for the fulfillment of their own happiness and deferred dreams.
But regularly stepping in to protect maturing young people from stress – or assuming they need you at all times in order to feel secure – may hurt them in the long run.
Studies in parenting have found that age inappropriate over parenting leads to depression-prone, aimless adults with diminished self-efficacy, lacking the ability to put a plan in place to achieve goals.
Can the same principle be challenged in coaching youngsters?
Managers in football have consistently reported that our young players struggle to deal with the transition from academy football to senior football.
This is not directed at the players’ physical, technical and tactical skills but at their ‘biopsychosocial’ skills. So are our coaching and development practices losing touch with what is required in the real world of professional football? Are we developing a generation of young players who are described by some as ‘wimps’? And do we truly understand what are the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills required to succeed within a winning culture, a culture that without doubt is the school of hard knocks?
The business world would agree. Certainly in the UK we are facing a national talent deficit on a profound scale. We have the highest number of unemployed 16-24 year olds of any Western nation. Not only do these young people become disengaged from mainstream society, they are also ill equipped to make a useful and valuable contribution to commercial organisations.
This lack of entry level talent has significant implications to a capable national workforce.
Within the realms of management there is a golden rule – ‘treat everyone as you would like to be treated’ is a stream of thinking that I am sure is not uncommon to many. This thinking assumes that we view people as the same as ourselves – in other words we all breathe the same psychological oxygen. Effective developers of people break this rule, they treat people appropriately, as is required for each individual.
Coaching in sport has seen a transition from being predominantly command and control to presently advocating a coaching philosophy grounded in self discovery. Advances in neuroscience have shown us how our brains are capable of rewiring new behaviours in particular through the learner owning the cognitive effort. By not letting children stumble over the little things, coaches prevent them from developing coping skills, and without these they don’t acquire a sense of mastery and self-confidence, which is required to foster long-term independence, or self managing players.
Continuing coach over-involvement may also be associated with increased entitlement. Children who are used to getting everything they need from their parents without exerting any effort may think: ‘I’m entitled to everything, but I don’t have the abilities to achieve what I want,’ which can result in further disappointment down the line when the real world doesn’t accept such thinking. Too little demand aligned to our desired outcomes hinders our coping mechanisms. A winning environment is populated by self motivated individuals who operate as a disciplined and structured collective.
By contrast, practising what is known as benign neglect with your children in parenting circles is like inoculation. If children struggle over a little adversity, they learn specific coping skills and gain the confidence that they can take whatever comes their way.
Under coaching just a bit – giving players the chance to recognise that you’re there for them even when you’re not commanding their every move, that they’re capable of picking themselves up when they fall down – is the only way they’ll understand the coaching bond and a sense of their own competence.
So in an era of the Elite Player Performance Plan, where the profession of football is advocating the development of decision making players, then we must allow them to live with disappointment and resolve their own problems as much as possible, while assuring them that their feelings are heard and that you’re available for moral support.
Our role as coaches and parents is to help the young person become self-sufficient. Letting them analyse and reflect on their disappointment is some of the best development training they can get as a person and a player. This then better equips them to deal with the consistent challenges life will inevitably throw their way.
The talent development pathway is rife with challenges, therefore we must create such challenges with the purpose to aid learned resourcefulness. As professor Dave Collins says: ‘Talent needs trauma.’
Our players and children will at times follow our lead, therefore having the ability to understand people as well as lead them seems like an important skill to have. The field of neuroscience is providing insightful measures and applications that are better able to assist people in managing themselves and improving performance and well being.
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