Practices Don’t have to be Boring

We had a problem

A few weeks into my first season as head coach, and I already had a major problem. OK, not major. None of the kids were pregnant or anything, but only because they were an under 10 team. We had a few drug dealers, a kid on probation, and a kid named Kevin, but pregnant? Come on.
We had three games under our belt and had already had our rear-ends handed to us. Three games of brutal beat-downs and I had found myself crying out “Please dear God make it stop! Why have thou forsaken me?”, too many times during those first games.
My team was off the proverbial chain. I’m willing to bet, a psychologist would have diagnosed the athletes with PTSD, brought on by the onslaught of goals scored against the emotionally unstable 4th graders.
I broke down. I found myself soaking in bath-bombs listening to Alicia Keys in the bathroom with the door locked after practices. This seemed to help, but it wouldn’t last.
Eventually, my wife started asking where all her candles had gone. The gig was up. I gave in. I had to do something. The Adele CD on the radio agreed with me that I was definitely rolling in some pretty deep doo-doo.

It Was Overwhelming and Complicated

So, I drug my sad butt out of the bathtub and went straight to “the google”. I figured it had all the answers, right? But, I initially couldn’t find what I was looking for. Though loaded with great ideas for teaching a team, the drills I found all seemed too hard to actually teach to a team of screeching monkeys. Reading these drills only made me doubt my decision to coach. It wasn’t like I could get my team to listen long enough to hear all those advanced instructions. The team was a living picture of ADHD in the flesh. Most practices were more like coaching a bunch of tiny Robin Williams’s than instructing mindful model citizens.
No joke, I might say they were off the chain, but I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. In actuality, there wasn’t a chain large enough to contain them (at least not at Walmart). Their silliness factor would have broken all modern silliness-measuring devices. “How do you coach that?” I asked myself.

Coaching ADHD Children

I googled it. “How do I coach ADHD children?” And Oh my. It was a most fantastic find. The idea was extraordinarily simple.
And hey, you might wanna sit down for this…

Standing in line…SUCKs.

Nobody likes lines. Think about it. How many of us say, “There’s a super long line to the bathroom. Sweet!”?
And coach, why do we feel compelled to put kids in a line anyway? We aren’t there to teach them line-standing. Think about how much time we’re wasting.
There’s this market strategist, a super intelligent guy, his name is Seth Godin, he likes to ask it like this, “Why do we spend so much time seeking compliance and so little effort in solving real problems?”
He stresses in his podcast, Akimbo, that schools should stop wasting their day trying to wrangle kids with obedience and normalcy and instead challenge them with real problems.
I was facing the challenge of teaching 11 crunked out nine-year-olds how to win a soccer game. I wasn’t there to perfect their waiting strategies.

“My job wasn’t to create a group of award-winning line standers.”

We don’t get extra points on the board for line-waiting abilities.
If we got the snot beat out of us, the other coaches weren’t gonna come up and say “Sorry for the high score coach, but those lines though!”
So I did what I had to do. I quit.

I quit teaching manners.

I stopped trying to run a course on proper wait-etiquette.
I ditched the lines. We started doing whole team drills. There were balls on every foot and every player was engaged at the same time. We did scrimmages with less players on each team. When the team dribbled, they all dribbled together. When the team took shots, they took shots together. It was cat-herd teaching at its finest. And if a drill required a line, I broke the line up into two or four lines instead, or I gave half of the group to my assistant and made the groups smaller. This made for less time with kids waiting. We kept practices moving. We wore the kids out. It improved there cardio, made them better on the ball, and kept them from boredom.
Remember this: It’s almost impossible to tame a wild animal, and I wasn’t asked to be a snake charmer. I was there to coach a winning soccer team. So I opened up the cage and let the animals run free. No regrets.

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Nate Ballew

Father of four boys, married to one wife, coaching enthusiast, and fiction/non-fiction author.

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