Sports can sometimes be a scary experience for kids — especially for those just starting out. Here's how we aim to turn fear into confidence through lacrosse.
As a company of coaches, we know all too well that for parents there are few things more crushing than convincing your child to try a new sport for the first time, and then having that first experience end in disaster or “bad parenting moments.”
I have seen this happen with some of the young girls I’ve coached over the years. If the temperature is too chilly, if a best friend cancels at the last minute, if Mom or Dad is late picking up — these are all factors beyond a coach’s and parent’s control that can lead to a bad first experience with a sport.
How Coaches Can Help Create a Positive First Experience
As someone who’s been coaching youth lacrosse for more than 30 years, we as coaches and directors can, and should, do more to help new players have a positive first experience with a sport. This is a mantra that I drill into the heads of the coaches I direct at my own lacrosse camps and clinics (Swax Lax Lacrosse). It’s our job to do everything we can to ensure that our players, especially the newbies, have a successful first day or first week.
Below are just a few of the simple yet effective ways we do this at Swax Lax Lacrosse:
Wear name tags
Each day, until the last day of the clinic or camp, every player gets a name tag with his or her first name in large bold letters during the check-in process. This allows our coaches to get to know the campers by name so the child feels known and hears specific instructions and praise at every possible interaction.
Greet by name
We try to have a coach greet the new players at check-in, introduce themselves (our coaches also wear name tags), and then walk the child over to his or her group. This is especially important when a child arrives late, so that he or she is spared the feeling of being thrown into a drill or game without knowing anyone or knowing what’s going on. Ice-breakers are another great way to get kids feeling comfortable before the actual drills begin.
Every player at our camps and clinics is selected to be “Player of the Day” during his or her time with us. The coaches award a hand-decorated sticker to the player for a specific achievement or memorable moment in front of the whole group at the end of the camp or clinic day. Instead of hearing, “Nice Job!” or “Well done,” the goal is for the camper to be able to articulate the specific reason his or her talents were recognized when explaining it to a parent or babysitter. The “POD” could be for something as simple as: “helping the coach to pick up the balls;” “being a good teammate when someone was injured;” or “listening to the coach’s suggestion for how to adjust his or her hands for a more powerful shot.”
Design appropriate curriculum
Drills and games are designed to make the players feel successful — not too easy, but definitely not too difficult, and always, aim for age- and skill-level appropriate. Coaches are encouraged to “make it fun” and to be aware if they notice if a particular game or drill is failing because it’s either too easy or too hard. That’s on us, not the kids, so the coaches are told to make adjustments on the fly, or drop it and move on!
We put a Swax Lax ball into every camper’s stick. They’re the exact dimensions of a hard, regulation ball, yet they hurt less when you get hit because they’re softer. This enables new players to learn stick skills with less fear and more confidence. Our campers find it easier to scoop since the balls don’t bounce. Practice is more productive since balls don’t rebound off walls when training indoors, or roll too far, whether playing indoors or out. Now that our company is in year five, with hundreds of thousands of balls delivered into the lacrosse universe, it’s gratifying to think that our product is used by hundreds of coaches.
By turning fear into confidence, players are more likely to stick with the sport. They'll enjoy lasting personal benefits and, who knows? He/she could be the next person to create a new product that improves the game of lacrosse.
Let us know what you think.