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Sideline Coaching

Best selling author and founder of Changing the Game Project, John O’Sullivan, writes …

“when I travel and speak at schools and sports organizations, I often talk to the athletes. When asked, “what would you like your parents to say on the sidelines during your games?” 99% of those kids respond immediately with a resounding “NOTHING!” No athlete has ever told me “ I love when my parents tell me what to do” or  “it’s great when my dad yells at the referee.”

“Here is the funny thing, though. When I ask audiences of parents “what do your kids want you to say on the sideline” they immediately respond “NOTHING!” as well. They know what their kids want, but here is the kicker. I ask “but what are you going to do this weekend at your kid’s’ games?” The answer for many parents, as we all know, is yell instructions, disrespect the officials, collectively groan when kids make mistakes, and pretty much do exactly the opposite of what our kids want from us! This is disrespectful, confusing and disruptive to learning when they are trying to play a game and take feedback from a coach, fellow players, and from parents. The next time you see a player turn to the sideline and yell “shut up, I got it” you should probably take their advice.”

“Any adult giving instruction to a player involved in the play, under pressure, and trying to make the decisions that the game requires, is confusing. It is also scientifically proven to diminish performance (see the book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman for more on this). As my friend Tom Statham, who has coached in the Manchester United youth set up for over 20 years, is fond of saying, “we don’t coach when the ball is rolling.” Let players make decisions and let them learn from both the good and bad ones. Every time we solve a problem for a player in a game we delay learning. It’s better to ask after the play “where could you have been on that play” than to tell a kid to pinch in, get rid of it, or my favorite, “SHOOT!” If a teacher gave your kids the answers to the math test, they would get a good result, and learn nothing, right? That’s what many coaches and parents do in sports.”

An Experiment in Sideline Coaching

Listen to Kevin Eastman (@kevineastman), Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Clippers talk about a drill that he used that involved blindfolding a kid and everyone had to yell directions at a child in order to help him/her make a shot. When parents yelled, the child was confused and never ended up near the basket. 

Why Do Kids Play Sports?

According to the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethical Education, research shows that kids play sports for the following reasons:

  • To have fun (always #1)
  • To do something I am good at
  • To improve my skills
  • To get exercise and stay in shape
  • To be part of a team
  • The excitement of competition
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