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How do you help players transition into an elite environment? | Coaching Youth (age 13-18)

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Posted in: Coaching Youth (age 13-18), General Forum

How do you help players transition into an elite environment?

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  • saranicolehilton

    I am the director of the North East Wales Girls Performance Centre - this is an elite environment that gives the best players within the region an opportunity to gain advanced training and also feeds players from club level to the North Wales Squads. 

    This season my youngest age group (U12s) consists almost of all new players. The environment of the performance centre is more elite than what the players are used to and they are also challenged more as players. 

    My question is how do you find that balance within your own sports/environments between fun and elite training? 

    Myself, I think it is vital we help the players develop within the game but also make is fun and enjoyable - as we want them to continually attend. However, it is really important that the players and parents realize that the elite environment is different to just a 'fun football session', but we also don't want to overwhelm them and scare them off. How do you balance both ends of the spectrum? 

    It would be great to hear your thoughts and opinions on this subject!

  • gareth.a.smith

    Hi Sarah,

    The most important aspect of setting the environment for me, is the engagement of parents and players as soon as possible within the season. Preferably before pre-season training starts. An induction or welcome evening event is something I've experienced and had positive reactions from, from both parents and players. The aim of this is to set the expectations for the forthcoming season, set out the programme of development (ie. team training sessions, individual training session, Sport Science sessions, fixtures, tournaments etc.) and be as honest and open with those attending to ensure they feel part of your programme and buy in to the process. By doing this, the parents/guardians of your players know what to expect, you may have given some example scenarios and how they would be dealt with and therefore everyone involved has an undestanding of how you and how the club/centre operates. Most importantly to this is that the players know what environment they are coming to. 

    In terms of balancing your sessions and incorporating both ends of the spectrum, i feel this can be achieved through the constraints/conditions (whatever you want to term them as) within your practice. I use a lot of game scenarios with our players linked to a set outcome - e.g. it's the Champions League semi final Bayern v Barca - Barca are 2-1 up with 10 minutes to play. The players are then given the ownership of playing in the formation, style/way they wish for ten minutes. They see it as a fun game because they become 'Messi' or 'Lewandowski' for ten minutes, but actually they are think about how they manage game scenarios and how they have to adapt within set situations. 

    Hope that helps in some way or ignites someelse to respond to your question. Happy to carry on the conversation if you wish.

  • SamGoss

    Hi Sarah

    I work with the social and psycological environment around the team which includes the parents and some of the friends of the team that you work with.  I have found when you start with a team a 'meet and greet' with all the members of the team and their immediate family allows the coaches and manager and any other behind the scene personel to get a feel for the support that is behind the team members.  This also allows the coaches and manager to get the whole team and family on board, aware of the ground rules and what they are working towards. This doesn't have to be a formal but something that allows the whole team to get to know everyone.

    This works hand in hand  with Ryan and Deci's Self determination theory (2000) which looks at giving the athlete competence, autonomy and relatedness.

    Kingston, Thomas and Neil (2013) observed that:

    ‘it is incumbent upon coaches across all levels to work hard and be creative in searching for ways to provide an environment that continues to support the innate needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness, if optimal athletic performance is to be obtained’. 

    Transistional players need to develop their competency in an environment that they feel comfortable and able to work in.  They need to feel they are wanted there, be among people that can help them develop and enjoy what they do, as we all know elite work is very hard work.  Coaches that welcome them, are approachable, but are able to maintain a balance and make things fun to do, so the playes want to come to training and get on with the hard work. A balance between the work needed for training, but also school work and socialising with friends.

    Giving the players choices including them in developing training programmes, allowing them to look at what develops them and helps them to feel part of the team. On this note a mentor from an older group and using different members of the team to develop certain goals and ideas.  Yes you need to know your players to do this but it will give them chance to develop.and understand the transition that they will be on.

    This in turn works with relatedness, so that the players can not only relate to their peers, but also to their manager, coaches and support staff and realise that everyone is working together to develop their ability. 

    This can build:

              Trust         -   Between the coach, players, family and whole team

              Respect    -   Between the coach, players, family and whole team

              Unique      -   Any differences between formal training and experience.

              Empathy   -   Between all involved.

    Autonomy + Competency = Empathy + Empowerment


    I hope this is of help.

    Best wishes Sam 

  • Wlawless

    Hi Sara

    This is an interesting question, perhaps some further questions may be the way forward for you to best further develop your philosophy. Firstly what are you defining as Elite? Are these girls’ elite now, do they have the potential to be elite, are they elite in their age group? Perhaps simply using the term ‘elite’ dictates to you and others an expectation in the way they are coached. It is very easy to get carried away when performers do well, especially in younger ages. They can be ushered in to ‘elite’ coaching environments that can in fact be ‘adult’ coaching environments not suitable for their mental and physical development.

    You say that you think that it is vital to help players develop in the game but also make it fun and enjoyable. A great philosophy, though I would suggest that the ‘but’ should really be ‘and’.  Consider again this definition of ‘elite’, why is there a difference between that and a ’fun football session’? Can a fun football session not be a good coaching session where performers learn and enjoy themselves? There is a good chance that a lot of performers are still learning to train and your approach should be suitable for wherever they are in their development, regardless of level or chronological age.

    As a final thought, does a good coaching session require the coach to be constantly involved within the session?

     Might I suggest a read of this by a colleague of mine (https://www.connectedcoaches.org/spaces/10/welcome-and-general/blog/henrydorling/178/teaching-games-for-understanding-tgfu-are-all-coaches-playing-the-game). There are also some interesting comments related to the topic by others.

  • AndyP

    I think the question of what you mean by 'elite' is a good one. Fun and elite needn't be mutually exclusive and, if you want to ensure the kids stay in the sport into the senior ranks, I think it's important that both aspects are addressed.

    For example, I knew a few of my older athletes were missing Halloween parties since they had training the next morning - that was the right decision and what is expected from them, but we then had everyone turn up in fancy dress for that session - nothing that would affect their ability to run obviously, but a chance to do something a bit daft and silly! Remember they are kids first, athletes second.

    I think being clear with expectations at the outset is important so that the kids know what they are signing up to. I always stress that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be involved at a more recreational level, but that's just not what my squad is about.

    The words 'peer pressure' have very negative connotations, but it can be a positive influence too. I very rarely have to address issues about poor attendance myself since the kids will be the first ones to call someone out if they're letting things slip.

    I find lifestyle issues away from training are often the hardest to address with younger athletes. Interaction with parents is key for that - you need to present a united front when it comes to nutrition, sleep habits etc. 

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