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Friday, November 26, 2010

Child's Play

It has been almost three full months now since I started taking to the ice as an assistant hockey coach - and so far I can't say I'm disappointed. Children are a curious thing, in that there is so much we can learn from working from them. Now, I can't claim that I have a lot of experience with kids in a teaching capacity, but in such a short time I've already learned a great deal. Since I have an interest in doing some work down the road in the TESL industry, it is valuable to me to be as perceptive as possible.

When we are kids, we try so hard to have our opinions and ideas listened to, yet as soon as we become validated adults we are quick to ignore and downplay the voices of the youth. The children that I coach are young enough that they still remain almost completely unbiased by society. The advantage of this is that a lot of the behaviour and ideas exhibited from them come out unfiltered and raw. With this in mind, I would like to take the time to share some of the thoughts and insights I have garnered through my time spent coaching six-year olds:

Children are indestructable.
Don't take this the wrong way. I'm by no means telling you to fight children or blow them up - yet in a weird way, kids are a lot tougher than their adult counterparts. I'm not sure if it's because they are so close to the ground, or that often they are wearing a lot of padded equipment, but some of the collisions and hits I've seen these little kids shake off is incredible.

This is important to keep in mind. In a world that seems to be coming increasingly more nerf-like and padded, sometimes telling them to "walk it off" is still the best way to deal with a crying child. If a kid is crying, I'll ask them if they'll live. The answer is usually yes.

Children want to be listened to.
This is something I learned the value of first hand. There is a paticular kid that comes out to practice who is often distracted and unresponsive. Through the first few weeks I found this quite annoying - as he was often skating in circles and trying to tell me things while I was making an attempt at running a drill. With not much else working, I finally started listening to what he was trying to tell me. He was more than obliged to tell me about the hole in his glove and how he had some how managed to flip his mouth guard to have it rest uncomfortably over his bottom teeth.

Amazingly enough, the simple act of saying something so basic as "oh yeah?" or demonstrating how the palm on my hockey gloves are a ravaged tribute to their former glory was enough to make him a little more respondant. I listened to him, so he would listen to me.

Different things motivate different kids differently. (The redudancy was implied!)
Although it seems pretty self explanitory - the ability to be perceptive enough to figure out how to motivate individual kids is a tough job. How a kid responds to what you ask them to do is completely context dependant. Some kids want to be the best, no exceptions - and with these kids you have to make things seem inherently competitve. "I bet you can do the drill faster than every other kid!". Other children simply want to do something to the best of their abilities, and instead you would say "you did this well last time, lets try and do it even better!".

Then of course, there are my favourite kind that just want that sense of belonging. They want to feel like they are part of that group, and have the chance to participate with their peers. These are perhaps the easiest to motivate, as they seem to be at their peak just being there. I have over simplified, of course, but the point has been made - trying to figure out how to individually motivate a crowd of children on skates can be a daunting task.

Sometimes children are ridiculous.
This is one of the truest things I have ever said. This is neither good or bad, it just simply is (allbeit frustrating at times). I've heard these kids say things that are hilarious, and often shouldn't be encouraged, and yet can not refrain from laughing. During a paticular practice, I was promptly informed by one of the players that the drill we were doing was 'poo'. To reiterate the point so that I firmly understood his stance on the task at hand, he began spelling it out to me in song: "P-O-O!". How do you not laugh? Yet for the integrity of the drill and the practice as a whole, I can't encourage it - so I have to skate away smiling, and hope they didn't see me crack.

I've been growled at and hissed at, slashed in the back of skates. I've been told very firmly that I "am going down, punk" and whole heartedly convinced that a line of kids had come down with something paticularily potent - as they all seemed to have broken out into uncontrollable wiggles, not a single one among them able to stand still.

Conversley I have been told I was their favourite coach, told I was loved, and attack hugged while not paying attention. When the bad is good and the good is pretty good, then I consider myself fairly lucky to have this oppurtunity to coach.

I have habits as bad as the kids.
I suppose out of all the insights, this may be the most important one for me. It is easy when you're working with kids to assume yourself the infallible dictator. This is helped along by the fact that with skates I stand a good 6'2, and thus feel like an island in the sea when surrounded by six-year-olds.

Thus, it can inherently difficult to stop and asess whether the way in which you are trying to run a drill could be improved or altered. If one kid isn't figureing out the drill then it may be that he hasn't payed much attention - but if all of them are confused, then you're probably to blame.

That said, here are some examples of mine:

- I say 'guys' way too much. This isn't a terrible problem, but a lot like 'um' during public speaking, if I took the time to count the usage, it would probably be outrageous.

- I forget the necessity of demonstration. Even though I am actually a visual learner, I often forget that I can't just talk at a mob of wide-eyed faces and expect them to know what they're going to do.

- Sometimes I talk to loud / quiet for a given situation. I can't expect to talk in an indoor voice and have all the kids hear me. Conversely I have to remember not to yell in an opposite situation. Yelling is sometimes necessary, but I don't think anyone wants to play the role of the scary coach.

It is important to remember that children are human. As a result, they are every bit as smart and intuitive as any adult. It is scary how fast they understand when a certain drill or lesson isn't going correctly, or if the teacher / coach doesn't know how to handle a situation.

I think for that reason, working with kids requires a baseline ability to bluff - looking in control even if you have no idea what is going on. I'm still working on this part of my repertoire, but it gets a little easier every time. As excited as I am for my upcoming trip to Africa (<---it's a link), I do regret that I will be unable to continue working with these kids into the new year. As much as I've taught them in the basics of hockey, they've returned it ten fold in helping me learn how to get the most out of them.

That is all for now,

Much love,


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