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Having to gel teenagers and adults in the same team should not be a sticky situation for coaches

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Netball 1

Ladies' netball teams can comprise a wide mix of ages

What issues do coaches need to be aware of when they take charge of a group comprising a spread of ages, from 14 year olds to thirtysomethings? ConnectedCoaches Community Champion Elly Moore provides some simple solutions to the coaching conundrum.

Faced with the prospect of coaching a mixed team of adults and teenagers, do you say to yourself, ‘no sweat’, or do you break out into a cold sweat? 

Does it require a simple or sophisticated approach? Do you regard it as potentially a match made in heaven, with the perfect blend of youth and experience, or rather, a case of never the twain shall meet, with a potential clash of styles and attitudes poised to complicate your carefully laid-out strategies? 

Questions, questions.

Of course, adolescents and adults are different in many respects. 

Their interests are likely to vary significantly. How do you integrate a teenage girl obsessed with Justin Bieber or Harry Styles with a seasoned performer who has as much interest in pop culture as they do documentaries analysing the twisting plot lines of the Twilight saga? 

Or a teenage boy obsessed with playing FIFA 17 and killing avatars on Call of Duty with a club stalwart who spends most of his spare time playing FIFA 17 and killing avatars on Call of Duty? Ah! Okay, maybe I am already letting my prejudices get the better of me. 

What about common everyday teenage worries, then? We are told kids today stress about schoolwork, bullying and body image. Mental health issues are rife among the younger population. 

For adults, top of the worry list is balancing work and family life, relationship issues and, of course, managing their pre-adolescent sons and daughters! Oh, and mental health issues are rife among the adult population. 

The point I am trying to make is the need for coaches to get to know performers as individuals before they make any rash age-based judgements on personalities. 

There may be a lot more similarities than differences and, remember, there will be a range of personalities among the adults too. 

That is not to say coaches should not be on the lookout for age-related differences. 

You would be right to question whether different communication styles are needed; if there is a tendency for teenagers and adults to react differently in certain situations; or debate internally whether you have to tread more carefully with one group particularly because of subtle variations in outlook or temperament. 

By developing a relationship with each of your players, these answers will soon become apparent, and you can then begin to make appropriate modifications depending on each individual’s, or group’s, needs. 

This philosophy has worked well for ConnectedCoaches Community Champion and netball coach Elly Moore , who coaches two senior teams that fuse youngsters aged 14 and 15 with adults in their twenties and thirties. 

By recognising the differences that exist, and following a few simple guidelines, she has created a harmonious blend of adolescents and adults, with the input of youth having invigorated the squad rather than fragmented it. 

No weak links 

Elly works 26 hours a week for England Netball as the Performance Pathway Coach for Netball South – one of nine regional units nationwide. 

She coaches girls aged between 13 and 19 who have been identified as having the potential to play for England at Under-17 and Under-19 level. 

She is also the Lead Technical and Tactical Coach for Eagles Netball Club, which has teams in Division 1 and Division 2 of the South Region Open League, under-16s and under-14s teams in the South Region Junior League and other teams playing in local leagues in Berkshire. 

Many of the younger participants at Eagles are also on the performance pathway. 

And while some grass-roots coaches may understandably be concerned their youngsters aren’t physically strong enough to compete against fully matured adults, this is not an issue for Elly. 

‘I haven’t noticed that at all,’ she says. ‘Perhaps if I worked with under 13s, there would definitely be a difference there. And even with a lot of under 14s. But because the majority of the under-16 girls I coach are on that performance pathway, they actually go to strength sessions and we spend time doing power work. 

‘Sometimes, they are the ones that have to temper their powerful passes.’ 

Elly will blood the younger players slowly, playing them for short bursts when they first join to make sure, when they make that jump to the next level, they land on their feet. 

‘For some it is a real eye-opener because they have huge success at age-group level but then, moving into an open and senior team, it’s very different.’ 

Talking point 

Elly follows a tried and trusted routine before the start of every club training session. 

When all the players arrive, they will invariably migrate to their own social group, chatting among themselves while they tie up their shoelaces and hoover up any loose netballs for shooting practice. 

‘I tend to let them do that so it’s over and done with,’ says Elly. ‘Then I don’t feel too bad if I’ve separated them into groups based on, for example, positional units, rather than age. 

‘They don’t have to spend time then chit-chatting during the session about what the younger ones did at school or the older ones did with their families or at work.’ 

In terms of general one-to-one support during the session, Elly says that it is the adults who, perhaps surprisingly, depend on her more for advice. 

Again, the learning preferences of individuals will vary from club to club, but with Elly’s teenagers being on the talent pathway, they are familiar with her academy coaching style and accustomed to working through game-based problems independently. 

‘I will weigh up the support level required so that everyone gets something out of a session,’ she adds. 

‘It is often the younger ones who need to be challenged a little more, and I can use appropriate questioning with these players; the older ones tend to need more input and one-to-one support – I aim to give each some technical input, which makes them happy as they feel they have derived something out of the session.’ 

Playing parents and parents playing up  

Elly is a huge advocate of developing close relationships with parents, which, she says, ‘can really quell a lot of storms’. 

If there are a few players fighting over the same jersey, for example, parents are liable to take issue with the fact that their daughter hasn’t been given the same number of minutes on court as her positional rival. 

In an abuse of their vested interest, a minority can step over the threshold from attentive parent to interfering parent, seeking feedback over game plans and appealing the whys and wherefores of tactical decisions. 

This is the first season the Eagles have had a player and parent representative for each age group, and the rewards have been instant. 

‘Including more parents in roles within the club has helped head certain things off before they become issues,’ says Elly, ‘as they see and hear a lot of the reasoning behind various decisions. 

‘If we’ve talked to a player and it’s clear she is not really understanding either why she’s being included or why she’s not, then we will involve the parent as well so that they hear about things directly, not third-hand.’ 

In her regional performance role, Elly organised a walking netball session that involved the girls and their parents during Parents in Sport Week in October. 

‘Every year I have a parent meeting to discuss how they can best support their daughters when they are new on the pathway. We followed that up this year with a walking netball session. 

‘The parents had such fun, and the girls were so delighted to be able to play netball against their own mum or dad. They didn’t even mind playing out of position so they could play! 

‘And it seems to have broken down some barriers, where previously parents might have taken a few months to become open with me in conversations.’ 

Catching the coach’s eye

Netball 2 

I ask Elly if she thinks the cubs of the club are out to impress more than their older counterparts. 

‘The younger ones are definitely more eager to please, although, once again, it may be something to do with the fact I am their performance coach as well. 

‘They know I’m watching them all the time. Whenever I am at my club or when I am watching other clubs, you tend to get that little bit of “She’s on the sidelines, best step it up a bit.”’ 

The focus of the older players, meanwhile, is not so much on catching the eye of the coach in the drills or during games-based learning exercises; most are champing at the bit to get into a game situation. 

‘It doesn’t matter how hard I try to structure a session to lead towards game context and then a conditioned game, they want to get to the game early and play as much as possible.’ 

For participation players, having fun and socialising with friends may rank high among their reasons for playing sport, but that is certainly not the sole priority for high-achieving teenagers who have been deemed good enough to play in the adult ranks. 

For them, the emphasis is on improving their technique and game sense and continuing up that performance ladder. They don’t mind if there is minimal play time during a session. 

‘I find that really noticeable in my performers because, in academies, it’s more about progressing the practices towards game context, as opposed to a series of drills then just playing a full-court game. However, in a club session, I of course recognise the need to spend a significant amount of time playing, especially during the competitive season, so we do compromise somewhat to satisfy everyone. 

The performance academy for the South region is based in Southampton, and pathway players can spend around 90 minutes in a car each way for a two-hour training session. 

‘That shows some real dedication and is a big commitment,’ says Elly. ‘Many of those young players are at the Eagles too, which also now has a performance philosophy. 

‘The young players who join us have the mindset of pushing on and developing into national players.’ 

Gaining acceptance 

It is human nature that more seasoned players may at times resent the wily whippersnappers, even if they never admit to it. 

Being outperformed during a match or in training by their younger counterparts can damage court cred (as the youngsters might say). 

But consistency of effort and performance will earn the respect of senior players, especially in clubs that go to great lengths to advocate a team philosophy: where players are provided with the chance to mature and enhance their ability as individuals. 

‘With some of the younger players having shown consistency, they have earned their places and put their mark on that positional bib,’ says Elly. 

‘New players have also come in and seem to have been accepted, even though it means that maybe someone isn’t getting a full game where maybe they did last season. 

‘One of the things we’ve really sorted is to have clear and common goals from the outset. So, as a club, there is a stated aim for each team for the season and for each session, and everyone knows – the younger ones and the more experienced players – exactly what they are working towards.’ 

Do you have a mix of adults and teenagers in your team? What challenges have you faced? What tips can you give your fellow coaches?

This blog is also available as a podcast on a number of platforms including Itunes. Listen here.

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