It was probably in 2012 or 13, and it was the finals of a ‘B’ Division game between two of the best schools in Singapore. The stands were filled up with students, old boys and parents from both sides. While the behaviour of the students was exemplary throughout the game, the same could not be said for the adults.
Yup! Am talking about badly behaved sport parents and adults. This was one of the worse incidents that I have come across. I could hear adults shouting and yelling all sorts of instructions and expletives from the stands, jumping up to express their frustration and shouting to contest the referee’s decisions.
One parent absolutely took the cake! He actually tried to get closer to the field of play by pretending to be a photographer and started yelling at the player from the opposing team.
Why so much drama???? It’s literally only a game played by younglings!
While the last post’s discussion centred on adopting more of an autonomy-supportive style of coaching rather than a controlling one, this post’s focuses on the behaviour of parents and coaches. Here are some pointers to consider:
Today’s post focuses on the HOWs to help young athletes do their best without being overwhelmed by the pressures to win and to look good. Specifically, the focus is on how we can help young athletes build resilience in sport and life through a constructive Parent – Athlete relationship.
Its universal, young athletes seek approval from their parents, and parents, for the most part, have their children’s best interests in mind.
However, against the current climate where early specialization is the norm and Direct School Admission (DSA) often the main motivation, it’s easy for parents, coaches and young athletes to get overwhelmed by the competitiveness of youth sport.
Over the years as a PE teacher and later as a Sport & Psychology coach, I’ve observed how expectations placed on athletes by their parents have not only undermined their enjoyment but their confidence as well. As a result, many aspiring athletes suffer from performance anxiety, burnout and give up on sport altogether.
Make no mistake, parents have the best intentions but they may not know how best to help their children strive for success without undue pressure. I’ll attempt to share how we can address this challenge over 3 posts. The information will be organized into 12 related tips that are built on each other.
The question put to me by a friend was essentially – what can she do to ask her daughter’s primary school coach to be less harsh and loud?
The primary school softball team had started holiday training in preparation for next year. She observed that the coach tends to yell at the kids when they make mistakes, as a result they tend to be very tentative when they play. Her daughter tends to “freeze out” especially when it’s her turn to bat.
Ever came across “positive” coaches who praise athletes for almost anything they do? I vividly remembered a rollerblading coach who was constantly praising kids even when they performed the drills incorrectly. There was this one kid who told her that he needed to leave early and her reply was “Good Job! Go ahead”.
How is leaving early deserving of praise I wondered…
We may not exactly know why but many coaches have figured out intuitively that immediate feedback may not always be effective, even for beginners. I was recently reminded about this when I came across news that Dr. Peter Vint left Everton as the academy’s director. Many years back, a PE teacher showed me Peter Vint’s study explaining how frequent feedback may not necessarily be better for skill development. Only then did I realize that there were many studies since the 90s with similar findings.
“There are exactly two things which contribute more to the development of skill and human performance than anything else. These two things are practice and feedback. Without one, the other is ineffective and in some cases can be completely useless.” Dr. Peter Vint
This may sound familiar to other coaches too – I am correcting my player’s backswing but as soon as his backswing was high enough, other parts of the skill (such as the follow through and bent knee) breaks down. Mistakes that he didn’t commit initially will surface as he brings his attention to that one thing or cue that you tried to enforce. And when I leave the player to practice alone (usually when I get frustrated), he suddenly gets it, seemingly miraculously.
Promote Introspection and Avoid Dependency
A possible explanation would be that immediate feedback causes the athlete to constantly react to different cues without fully understanding the “whole” skill. For example, my player could be doing multiple throws and after each throw I will be barking “higher back swing”, “lower release”, “faster approach” etc. etc…This may also cause anxiety which has implications on the ability to learn too.
Meanwhile, in the absence of extrinsic feedback, the learner is forced to rely on intrinsic feedback instead, i.e., he begins to recognize his errors and feel what the correct execution is like through a process of testing, feeling and introspection. He begins to feel and understand why he has to execute the skill in a certain way instead of just being told how to. Other instructional approaches such as Games for Understanding, process based feedback and peer learning (through vicarious observation and discussion) also promotes introspection, independent decision making and ultimately self-directed learners (instead of having to rely on external feedback all the time).
Ultimately, we want our athletes to be able to learn on their own without being overly reliant on us.
Here are some pointer for giving feedback that I’ve jotted down from these studies…
Wait a few seconds or tolerate some mistakes first before giving feedback .
Ask learner to self-evaluate before providing feedback
Positive – Instead of “Stop gripping so tightly”, say “Relax your grip” (Golf)
Make use of bandwidth feedback – for beginners feedback should be frequent and general, i.e., “ball park info” such as “reach and glide further (swimming)”, since they are still unable to make use of detailed information.
As skills improve, reduce the frequency and use specific cues instead (refer to Gentile’s Model to understand this better).
It’s NOT necessary to give feedback when the outcome of the skill is easily detectable, e.g., whether the shot is on target or otherwise.
ASK the learner when best she would like to have feedback.
Make use of processed based feedback, or even stories and summaries that encourage introspection during the review of the lesson.
We’ve got to be flexible and take the stage of learning (The 4 Stages of Competence) into consideration when applying these pointers.
p.s. Let’s remember that we are coaches and NOT Kiasu mothers who are persistently reminding their kids what to do and what not to do!
Joan’s visually impaired (VI) and is a Goalball player from TeamSG. Over the weekend, she was invited by IC2, a prep school for low vision kids, to share about the critical development role of sport participation, and the obstacles preventing kids from being active.
Joan went to a mainstream school, and shared that she was lucky to have parents (both visually impaired) who would call up the school to complain whenever she was excluded from PE lessons or sports. This was in contrast to most of her peers whose parents would call the school to excuse them from “dangerous” physical activities. Joan shared that many of her peers were physically awkward, and were sometimes even mistaken to be both visually and physically impaired! She feels that overprotective parents and a risk adverse environment are to be blame for their lack of co-ordination and balance.
Some of my players have also shared with me that they have never learnt a sport (but they learnt how to play several types of musical instruments) during their school years at schools for the visually impaired. They were also not allowed to run around even in schools due to “safety reasons”.
Just in case that you reckon Joan’s experience is simply anecdotal evidence, there has been rigorous studies to suggest that kids who are deprived of play during critical periods of development will miss out on important milestones, and will never fully realize their genetic potential – physically, affectively and cognitively. Consequently, they are less likely to be active and will more likely suffer from obesity and other health related issues. As they get older, their risk of falling and suffering from a physical impairments is also higher. They end up with more than one impairment!
I hope overprotective aka Kiasu parents realize that if their kids grow up to be “psychomotor idiots”, they are largely to blame. Also, I don’t reckon this relates only to kids with VI. Increasingly, able-bodied kids have also been found to miss out on important developmental milestones due to the lack of play.