I wrote recently about letting one of my kids quit playing a sport because of how little he enjoyed it, and how that was only being fed by a coach not trying to make it more fun for the players. These are kids. 6-7 year old boys who are naturally hyper and want to move a lot and do the glory stuff in the sport (hitting, catching TDs, driving the lane on Kaidon and dunking on his goofy ass in front of Caitelynne). They don’t like doing the dirty work. But that’s where the professionals excel, the little stuff.
Experts master the little stuff to a point of muscle memory and contextual perfection. It might not look perfect every time, but the golf swing or the jump-shot or the omo plata, it’s all 2nd nature. But it has to start somewhere. And the best way to get kids to get used to doing the little stuff to the point that they pretty much master it is to make it a fun thing to do, and disguise it as a game. Last week, at home, we started a contest to see how many footballs my son could catch, in a row, without dropping one. He got to 21. Then he was kinda burned out on it. So we stopped.
Then we did a little bit yesterday before our flag football game, and he got to tell the team he caught 21 in a row. So now they’re all in to how many times they could catch it. And bingo, we have a drill looking like a game. We won 21-0 with 2 long runs and 1 long pass for TDs. This was a different kid than the one 2 weeks ago who didn’t want to play football because he was scared of messing up.
But in moments of the game, I put my son at Center because he’s the best at snapping, and can catch in a crowd as a taller kid. On our 2nd to last play, I put him at Center to try and get a specific play to throw to him. His face dropped. He broke eye contact. He said he wanted to play Running Back. We have a rule that if you ask to play a position, you won’t play that position. We tell the kids we put them in the places they do the best, and if we want to change it, the coaches have to agree. He called the huddle, snapped the ball, and kind jogged to his spot with his hands up.
After the game, on the way to the car, we had a talk about doing your best no matter where you end up, and how I put him at Center because he is best at starting the play and catching the ball in a crowd. He also got to play Receiver on a reverse that gained 14 yards.
And I started down a path of “You did great today, but…” and “Do you think there was something you could do better next week? I can help you with any skill you want to get even better at.” And it hit me… I’m alluding that he wasn’t trying that hard, and that he needs to be thinking about his performance… in a kid’s flag football game… and how he can improve. I stopped. Instead I told him what I really felt. That I was proud of his big run, of his flagging a kid who tried to spin away, and that he played great in spots he didn’t really want to play.
I was starting to make it “not fun” for him. We won, and I’m still COACHING. Some kids get the fun of a sport from the Competition of it, playing with a fire that is fed when the play starts and comes their way, even at 5 years old and up. Other kids need motivation to stick with it but they flourish in their moments, and that’s really great to see. Some kids are there as a social thing and they like playing with their buddies and that’s enough for them. And that has to be enough for me, too, as their coach, and especially as his dad.
So I told him, later on, that I would play him at Running Back next week if he practiced with me twice this week. And if he would practice twice and do all the games we practice without grumbling, I’d also get him a pack of Pokemon cards.
A BRIBE? No… Incentive. Pro athletes get them in contracts all the time for yards, attending off-season work outs, losing weight, etc.
For a kid who has his dad’s ability to do well at things he feels like doing well at – when the mood strikes him – I am hoping to instill some confidence in his own abilities, and it might take some incentivizing. So why would I do it if it’s “just a kid’s game” and it’s “just for fun”? Because I know what drives him. And it’s gotta be more fun for him, even if he doesn’t become a world-class flag football star, and instead is just an Agent for most of them.
And I needed to practice the little stuff – make it fun, pump up the positives, explain their success, encourage and reward EFFORT – more than twice this week.