Loyal reader Dave Pickford, World History teacher supreme and an even better swim and water polo coach, emailed me the following. Although relinquishing ego is difficult, what he talks about is certainly as good as any post I’ve ever done - from a content point of view as well as from a thought-provoking angle. Here are his ideas, well thought out and certainly worth your time. Comments are welcome.
I had a question on whether or not you had written a blog on the development of leadership/leadership characteristics within teenagers. Checking your index and seeing that you had over 300 cross references to leadership, I thought it would be a better use of my time just to ask you than to sift through all of that brilliance (especially during swim season when I have to plan three workouts a day, six days a week).Here’s my question. With all of the administrating of youth sports (and the preponderance of video games and social networking and other crimps on kids time), have we basically cut the opportunities for kids to develop leadership characteristics? When you and I were growing up, we played basketball with the fellows in the neighborhood. Frank was my neighbor and he was the luckiest kid on the block (in my mind) because he had a basketball hoop attached to his house and much of the day, when his parents didn’t park the car in the driveway, we would play one on one, two on two, two on three, etc. We would play outside for hours. Now I grew up in Huntington Beach where the average temperature year-round is 72′ so it was easier to stay outside for that long. Now these games were played on a driveway that was sloped so the outside shots had to be calibrated. A shot under the basket was nine and half feet off the ground and the shots from the the sidewalk were ten and a half feet. The mid-range jumper was a perfect ten feet high.My point is that we played for hours, called our own fouls, set up our own teams, decided who played who, administrated disputes and even figured out how to get Frank’s dad to move the car when he was sleeping so we could play (hey, Mr. Sanborn, we’ll cut your grass if you move the car so we can play). A lot of times I made suggestions on how we could make the games competitive or come up with other shooting games. I think one of the reasons I have coached for a long time is that each season is not a copy of the same season’s plan we had for the last fifteen years. How do I teach this concept in a way the kids have fun but they also develop the skill I want them to learn? Additionally, since we called our own fouls, anybody who was unreasonable was shouted down. “That’s a foul…are you kidding me, I never touched you…no, you bumped me…and you’re calling that a foul!”
The only time I can ever recall things not working out democratically was one of the kids took his ball home after being outvoted on some argument but fortunately, he wised up a few days later and life went on.Today, kids look to their parents, officials, administrators and other adults to solve disputes. Rarely do they get chance to do it themselves and now look what seems to happen more and more frequently…Johnny goes off to college and makes all of these bad decisions. Perhaps it’s because he was never allowed to make any decisions, good or bad, when he was growing up.I took this concept and applied it to water polo practices a few summers ago, first with the girls and then later with the boys’ teams. It worked really well with the girls, I thought, because none of them had ever played half-court basketball. “Taking it back” was a foreign concept, calling their own fouls was a new experience and even just having someone speak up and direct people here to go was eye-opening. I just explained the way the game should be played and that there would be no referee on deck to call fouls. We set up three half-court games and then just sat back and watched. After a while, girls who had always relied on the referee to call the foul and bail them out of a difficult situation were reluctant to call it on the player guarding them. Both girls knew if it was a foul or not and if it was, it was called and if it wasn’t, a girl who claimed it was was given the benefit of the doubt and play continued. The “fouled” player filed that experience in her head and thought better about calling it the next time it came up. If the girls knew the rules, they could apply them which is always a good thing. The first time we played, there were a few times when I had to step in but by the fourth time we played that summer, I could not have even been there except to open the pool.
Bottom line here is that a coach is supposed to teach players how to play the game. What decisions the players make in the games ultimately decide the outcome. If we give athletes a chance to make those decisions enough in practice, they learn to play together. The only downside to the whole process is that when the end of the season comes around and those big games are being contested, there are still lots of decisions to be made but in this case, most of them made by the players and the coach looks less important. The only real decision coaches have to make is who plays when but in terms of who does what in the course of the game, I believe we should let the leaders emerge as players play.
As Henry Miller said:
“The real leader has no need to lead; he is content to point the way.”