Saturday, February 14, 2015

The importance of a positive Grassroots experience

We can't lose if everybody wins.

During the Grassroots stages, up to U12, our children are growing at incredible and varying rates and on many fronts.  We have to be mindful of their development and environment at home, school, playground and socially.  Our children need a holistic approach and attitude from everybody who affects them.  Sometimes, people in sport think they are exempt from this, as if they are in a different realm. They're wrong.  Very wrong.

Something went off the rails at some point.  We demote and discard a kid because they couldn't make a travel team at 8 years old .  We accept the  " Oct-Nov-Dec" baby theory and believe it as a fact of life and move on.  Did anybody ever consider that the systems in place are what caused the late year baby hoopla?  When a child is no longer
interested in an activity, do we shrug it off with an excuse or did you ever stop to ask questions of yourself or the activity?
Remember, it's known as "The Golden Age of Learning".  As a species, it seems crazy that we would ignore this, but we have.
Our grassroots system, and society in general, was geared to the early bloomer, where we essentially left 75+% of the potential candidates behind before we see the finished product.  Why?  Because they grew at a slower rate or their parents chose to conceive at the wrong time of year?  Why did we sit there and watch these washed-up athletes-turned-coaches in ill-fitted track suits, using way too much Brylcreem, tell us how smart they are when they were only nurturing a small percentage of the interested players?  (They worked with the information they had, so we will spare them public condemnation.) We talked about what's wrong with sports (and soccer) but nobody mentioned how many young players were flushed down the soccer toilet before they had a chance to show their stuff.  This includes hockey and lacrosse and basketball etc etc.

This is the time in their life when they can learn the most and at incredible rates.  Why not put more eggs in the grassroots basket and maximize what can emerge from this stage of development.  Physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically, it's incredible what we can do with this group and how EVERY young personal has the potential to flourish in the right environment.  Remember, it's known as "The Golden Age of Learning".  As a species, it seems crazy that we would ignore this, but we have.

A grassroots program that keeps EVERY child engaged and involved will flourish.  If we service the talented, the not-so-talented, the growing, the stragglers, the interested, the socialites and the wannabes we can't fail.

We've all made mistakes along the way, but there are no more excuses.

Times are different.  We know too much now and changes were made and continue to be made.  We want to develop more athletes and encourage more participants.  We understand more about age-appropriate programming and expect to see it delivered.  We have a deeper appreciation of how successes/failures in one area of life can spill over into other areas.  We are building better coaches who are trained more in the art of body language, attitudes, holistic development, programming, etc.  We want to see more young people stay involved in their sport of choice and adopt an active life style.

Read the various sections listing the characteristics of each age group in the Ontario Soccer Association Grassroots Curriculum.

This document does not only address the soccer side of our children.  Read it.  If you have a child or you coach in one of the listed age groups, read the information from beginning to end.  Now , ask yourself:
  • Does the program for that age suitably serve the characteristics of the age?
  • Does the attitude of the adults around that age group serve the characteristics?
  • Does the conduct of the adults contribute to an age appropriate program or are children being forced to adapt to adult values?
  • If you take the info from the curriculum compared to the actual content being delivered, what percentage of children can actually succeed?  50%?  40%?  20%?
  • Of the children who aren't successful, how many of them will want to continue?
  • What are we doing to find successes for and build confidence in the ones who don't initially succeed?  Do we just dismiss them as "not the sports type"?  Would a teacher ever say "ah, she's not the spelling type"?
You know what the answers should be.  If society reworded these questions and asked them of their child's teacher, there would be a riot if the answers did not contribute to a positive, confidence building experience.  But, again, for some reason we slot sports into an area disconnected from the rest of the child's world.

There is one experience that I have been thinking about a lot but I am not sure how to massage it into
an idea.  I find that age-appropriate programming, patience and a calmer approach is easier to sell to
adults who were very successful athletes than it is to promote to those who were not. 

By this point in the article, somebody is thinking the strong will be held back to accommodate the weak.  Seriously?  Exactly where do you think we are when you say that?   Our children are not escaping the Pharaoh in Egypt, they're just trying to be kids. 

American's The No Child Left Behind Act has flaws, but the title is bold and ambitious.  Look at the motto for Oakville Soccer Club, "Advancing Every Player". These are powerful calls to action.

Does every kid need to be good at their sport?  Of course not, and they won't be, but we can still create an environment where they enjoy participating and stimulate them with appropriate challenges.  I have a lot of friends who still play soccer who were never good, (they know who they are)  but their experiences were positive and they are successful, well-rounded adults.

The elite level players will still find their way . Just like the higher academic level students will still find their way to medical school while their friends find their appropriate places.  But until the grassroots level is firm and well directed, we will never have a stable and dependable flow of talent to supply the top levels.

What has your club done to:
  • Involve parents in the holistic development of their children, with respect to your club's activity? 
  • Promote a player-centred philosophy on development? 
  • Enhance body movement skills of children at the Active Start and FUNdamentals stages?
  • Enhance soccer movements during FUNdamental and Learn to Train Stages?
  • Ensure the early and late bloomers are being tended to (with experience you will see there is a down side to being an early bloomer in the hand of the wrong coach)
  • Engage children (and parents) who were not selected to travel teams?
  • Develop and mentor coaches who understand and appreciate age-appropriate programming?
  • Build community within your club to enhance the social and emotional aspect of the game.
  • Monitored the progress of your age appropriate program
The Grassroots experience should not be overlooked or a made a small issue on the AGM agenda.  At your club, it's weekly topic that should be monitored and tweaked.  It's where your biggest numbers are.  It's where your customers are.  It's good business.

Without confidence, interest, retention, physical literacy and community, can we even begin to address the soccer?

This is not about soccer.  It's about our children.


Why a positive and holistic grassroots experience for EVERYBODY?
  • Everybody exposed to expanded physical literacy programs to build success to try different activities
  • Better physical literacy = better sports movements = higher likelihood of enjoying activity
  • Patient, age appropriate programming increase likelihood of success, at various levels
  • Healthier children
  • Work in tandem with schools to build all-round confidence
  • Increase number of children still active at U13
  • Greater pool of players = more possible players identified or excellence stream
  • Better for health of local clubs - membership, finances, community, etc.
  • More active adults
  • Better coaching 
  • Because it's the right thing to do