Coaching Matters: Around the Web January 2014

Ray Winstone

Welcome to the January 2014 edition of Coaching Matters, the articles I have been reading in the month.

The main talking points surrounded youth sports and the disturbing behaviour it can provoke from adults who should definitely know better. The reaction to Surrey Rugby implementing some new rules of play aimed at providing a better experience for kids attending Festivals and Competitions was a prime example. See the RFU page on the “New Rules of Play” (some very interesting resources in that link, I urge you to watch the videos and look at the links at the bottom of the page)

Several mainstream media outlets portrayed these new rules as “political correctness” and “robbing children of motivation” (Telegraph piece here – interestingly the writer didn’t put their name to it). They wilfully ignore the fact that individual games have winners and losers and the change is only that there is no overall “Champion”of the festival not to ban winning & losing altogether as they implied. They also ignored the large body of evidence that the RFU gathered in producing the new rules which showed that winning has very little significance overall to kids in age groups affected by these changes anyway – see survey results for U8/9’s here.

The main point with the new rules is that more children have more involvement in the game not only giving them more chances to improve their skills but also improve their enjoyment of playing the game – something that had not been mentioned once by any journalist I have read!

Reading many of the comments from media commentators and parents it became clear that there is a very poor understanding of several key issues in long term athlete development such as early vs late specialisation, participation and inclusion, talent identification and development, the relative age effect etc etc.

The ignorance of these concepts leads to some shocking scenarios such as those depicted in the documentary series called Friday Night Tykes about a youth American Football League in Texas. Some of the behaviour in the show border on abuse. Essex Rugby have had to issue a statement of concern regarding adult behaviour abusing officials and becoming involved in on field matters leading to the abandonment of games. The win at all costs attitude even led to one coach being sacked from Under 10 football for telling his kids that they’re not playing for fun!

There are positive actions being taken however. Mark Carter who runs Ministry of Football has shown that there is a better way and importantly he has been running quantitative and qualitative research in a great experiment. MoF runs a 4v4 mini league for boys and girls aged 6-10 with no coaches, no substitutions and a mixed ability inclusive policy (i.e. no trials). The evaluation of the mini leagues shows the good and bad aspects of the system which they then use to try and improve their offering. More sports should be running projects like this.

I applaud the RFU for their 5 principles behind the new rules and especially for the push to put the child first in our thinking. With ever increasing obesity and inactivity killing more and more people each year we should be trying to make kids associate exercise and games with fun not punishment.

A worrying addendum is the suggestion from the Department of Education that discipline in schools should be sanctioned with extra physical activity such as running laps round a field. See page 8 of this document.

This has been a bumper month for reading with over 175 articles and as usual I have attempted to categorise them so dive in!

Don’t forget that if you have written or know of similar content that would be good for future posts then please let me know via simon@undergroundathletics.co.uk or on Twitter @SiNainby.

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