There’s a fine line between genius and insanity; just ask anyone who has ever coached a youth sport.
It’s not always easy getting a bunch of pre-teens to focus on a series of similar tasks for an hour and a half at a time.Some zone out, others get frustrated, and nearly everyone gets antsy. And while the goal of any youth sports coach should be to build foundational principles that kids can carry with them throughout their lives, it’s always important to remember Rule #1 of any game: have FUN.
I currently coach a middle school boys basketball team; between getting them in the gym on time and constantly throwing water on heated 1-on-1 battles, I often wonder how I find time to actually teach. Fast-forward halfway through practice, still working on jumping off the correct leg, and the coaching frustration surfaces. “They just aren’t trying,” I tell myself. “Maybe they’re doing it on purpose,” the voice in my head whispers. “DO THEY EVEN WANT TO WIN?!”
And that’s when it hits me.
All the fundamentals in the world mean nothing if we forget what it’s all about: having fun. Whether or not the W’s stack up is irrelevant: to this day, I still can’t remember what my 7th grade basketball team’s record was. What I do remember, though, was getting better with a group of guys I eventually went on to win a district championship with in high school. We’d play knock-out before practice, crack jokes during practice, and go head-to-head after practice.
And our coach encouraged it all.
He knew that at that point in our lives, enjoying practice was directly correlated with team bonding, growth, and success. Running sprints gets a lot easier when you look to your left and right and see your best friends right there with you. That’s not to say we didn’t learn, nor to pretend some practices weren’t much tougher than either. But we ALWAYS kept the fun in fundamentals.
So the next time you walk into the gym, onto the field, rink, etc. and see your team of kids goofing off, do yourself a quick favor: smile. Smile, give them another minute or two, and then get practice started. The reality in the matter is that they’ll almost certainly remember those moments more than they’ll remember that time they learned to shoot a step-back jumper. At least I do.