05.15.13Annals of Coaching: Risk Free Practice
Got to spend the evening watching Iain Munro, Academy Director at the Philadelphia Union’s academy program, coaching and I was struck by what he did first and why. Iain’s kids played a modified 5 v 5 scrimmage for 15 minutes when they arrived. He likes the idea of kids getting to play right away so they don’t spend the whole time when you’re teaching them yearing to play. They get a little of what they love and then they get to the teaching. But more than that Iain’s kids play with a specific set of rules that are the opposite of what you might expect. The two rules for the game are: 1) no balls above head height and 2) no one touch balls. A touch minimum is the opposite of what most coaches do (a touch limit) but the rationale is that Iain thinks players dump the ball quickly because they are afraid of making mistakes. He wants them to take touches, to embrace risk and the making of mistakes and to force themselves to respond to the challenge. “If they have to take two touches they will learn very quickly that the first one will have ot be away from pressure,” he noted. So one rule embraces risk-taking and mistakes as an inherent part of learning; the other (essentially no long balls in he air to release pressure and stretch the field, slows the game down and compresses it–result: lots of challenge to rise to. While this was going on however, i was struck by what Iain said to his boys: nothing. He didn’t say a word to them except to remind them of the rules–no one touches; no balls over head height. The drill was designed to put pressure on kids and to make mistakes risk free and he trusted it to do that and let every error go without discussion. And, boy, did those kids rise to the occasion. As Richie Graham put it, “often they’re under such pressure to succeed that they’re afraid to fail.” But of course they’re going to. Iain’s practice did a great job of normalizing error.
Doug – how many of the top coaches that you see are working with younger kids (u10 and below)? I’m curious to hear how they manage the younger players and also whether they see reward in coaching the youngsters.
Great question. I think managing younger players is a huge issue. no one gets trained on how to get 16 8 year olds to pay attention duirng a practice and that sounds like a mundane concern but it’s the difference between doubling the rate of learning or not. I have a recipe for it that i share with coaches. Gonna make it a blog post asap. thanks for asking!