Siobain Peters says the beauty of coaching kids is that, while you may have to tie 35 pairs of shoelaces, you are encouraging a love of sport that will hopefully last a lifetime

I BELIEVE sport is a vital part of how we express ourselves as human beings and so I think our attitude as coaches should be to teach our kids to take risks on the field and not to let the fear of failure or getting beaten hold back our creativity or willingness to take a chance and just go for it!’

A quote taken from a fancy coaching manual? Try again. Copied and pasted from some “inspirational quote” website? Not a chance. These wise words are not from some top-level coaching guru. they are from the heart of a normal, hard-working dad, who just happens to coach under-6 hurling for his local GAA club in Ahane, Co Limerick.

His name is Declan Gill and like hundreds of others across the country, despite the wind, rain, mud, and occasional five-year-old meltdown, he goes out every week because that is his job — it is just what coaches do.

According to Lea-Cathrin Dohme, one of the developers of Coaching Ireland’s curriculum for children: “Your job as a coach is to make children fall in love with physical activity and sports. True love and passion for sports and physical activity is what creates life-long participation. You as the coach are the matchmaker.”

Coaching kids encourages a lasting love of sport

But getting children to enjoy being fit by playing fun games is the easy part of the job. The more challenging side is being a counselor, a babysitter, a nurse, or, as my partner-in-coaching, Martina Hurley, says, “tying 35 pairs of shoelaces”.

The beauty of coaching kids is that there are not too many downsides.

Ray Cunningham, an athletics coach with Brothers Pearse AC in Dublin, says, “The worst thing about coaching is kids who aren’t really interested. Sometimes they don’t like athletics and don’t want to be there, but parents want them out of the house.”

Paul McDonogh, an under-nine rugby coach in Limerick, based at Old Crescent rugby club, echoes this sentiment, reporting one negative to be “dealing with difficult kids who are often pushed out to training by parents.”

Regardless, you can’t keep a good coach down. Although the majority of coaches start because their own children are playing, they come back week after week because of the pure enjoyment. Patrick Doyle, an athletics coach with Moyne AC in Tipperary, says, “The best thing about coaching is the interaction with the athletes and sharing in their progress and success.”

One woman who can personally vouch for this special relationship between coach and player is Niamh Briggs, captain of the Irish women’s rugby team. “I love when a coach has a good rapport with players off the pitch as it helps to blend squads together. I think that positivity is also a massive attribute — that positive body language and/or positive verbals allows players to express themselves on and off the pitch.”

Coaching kids encourages a lasting love of sport

Damian Diver, another player who has performed at the top level of his sport, as senior county footballer with Donegal. Now a club member with Ardara, he still manages to drum up enthusiasm for the sport he has played so long. “I love watching how a kid can develop from being able to catch a small throw at five years of age to being able to solo and kick points by the time they are seven.”

Like most coaches these days, Diver “makes training enjoyable and fun but at the same time introduces the kids to basic fundamental skills of Gaelic football like bouncing, catching, punching etc...”

Nobody said coaching kids is the hardest job in the world, but as Liam Moggan, coach education development officer with Coaching Ireland says: “There is more to coaching than meets the eye.”

Sure, it might look like it’s all about dragging bags of balls around and telling kids to “pay attention”, but I can tell you from personal experience, it’s much more than that. It’s patience, and organisation, and knowledge. It’s running across the pitch in a tornado of little girls on a summer’s evening and knowing that this is where you were meant to be. And it’s a big dose of creativity — trying to come up with games and drills that bring laughter and smiles to the little faces looking up at you.

Across the board, ‘fun’ is the most valuable commodity in underage sport. The more fun we as coaches sell to the customers — the kids — the more they will buy, in that they will come back over and over. And then, we will be a nation rich with young people who want to be active and fit for hopefully, the rest of their lives.

Niamh Briggs agrees, and is one of those life-long customers. “In relation to coaching kids, I think the most important thing is to focus on fun and enjoyment. Coaches of young kids can have a huge impact on whether that child continues in the sport, so enjoyment and fun in a positive way is extremely important.”

And that is why, on any given Wednesday evening, somewhere in east Limerick, you can find this writer crawling around the ground pretending to be Spiderman, with 35 girls laughing with (or at!) her. But hey, it’s all in the name of fun.

To facilitate the fun, here are a few pointers for coaches:

- Be prepared. Most coaching sessions for children last an hour, and if that time is taken up by pumping up balls and placing cones, there won’t be much time for fun and games. Get there early and know exactly what you are going to do for the session.

- Be creative and engaging. Change up the session from one week to the next. Everyone gets bored if they know what is going to happen next, especially kids. Bring in a different piece of equipment from time to time, have a night where you don’t even use the ball, etc... Keep them guessing.

- Know your audience. Get to know their names. They will appreciate you much more as a coach. And do little games where they get to know each others’ names. After all, you are a team...

- Remember who’s boss. Be gentle but firm. Coaching young children is not just about the physical. Control the cliques and don’t let the “stronger” personalities dominate.

- Learn from others.

- Take foundation level courses offered by Coaching Ireland. Talk to coaches from other disciplines. Attend training sessions for older kids and adapt for younger age groups.

- Keep it light: Chain up your inner John McEnroe. Most underage sport is non-competitive but during the heat of the moment in matches, coaches can sometimes forget that. Give all children equal playing time. Get them laughing, and they will want to come back. And that’s what it’s all about...


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