Monday, May 19, 2014

Development vs. Competition

Most coaches think of practice time for development and game time for competition. While I do use practice time to develop players' skills, I also spend most of my games for developing players. Players rotate positions, we experiment, we take big risks, we learn. At certain points in the season (in football its playoffs, in hockey its tournaments) we go all in to compete.

Developing Players

Kids needs reps, plain and simple. They learn by trying stuff and failing. So you need to let them fail. A bunch. And then let them fail some more. The more they fail, the better they get. While they are failing, they need fair, firm feedback. My style is to keep both positive and constructive feedback in the same tone. To my players, they are getting facts from me. "Nice hustle", "smart play", "you need to press the puck", "don't let the runner outside" all come from me in the same tone.

As I mentioned, I use games to experiment. I don't strive for perfection. I strive for creating learning experiences. Having QBs learn to time deep passes, hockey players carrying the puck vs. passing, etc. In each case, players need to fail in order to learn their boundaries. Those boundaries become their new bar, they work to surpass that bar, establish new boundaries, and the process repeats itself.


Sports are a fun opportunity for kids to learn how to handle competing. What it means to try your best. What it means to put your best foot forward. How to win with class, and how to lose with grace. As such, I use some part of the season to focus on competing, and yes, trying to win. Playing sports is fun, winning is better.

When I talk to kids about competing, I talk about the possibility of losing and what means. Specifically, I explain to them its ok to try to win and then lose. Just as you don't give up if you drop a ball (you keep trying to catch it), you don't give up if you lose.

One benefit to my approach is that by the time we start competing, I've learned more about my players and their capabilities than opposing coaches have learned about their teams. After all, I've spent more time developing, experimenting, and learning. This puts the kids in a great position to compete and allows the team to put their best foot forward. My best example of this was last year's football playoffs. Our team finished 5th out of 6 teams during the regular season, including getting mercied our last game of the season. In the playoffs, we won all three of our games by more than a touchdown each to win the championship. A season of development followed by a playoff run focused on competing. I'm convinced that one of the reasons we competed so well is that we were "fresh." We hadn't spent all season focused on winning as other teams had. When the playoffs started, we weren't worn out. We were starting fresh and played that way.

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