Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lessons learned at the Aces Soccer Camp - Spring Break Camp

From the Evansville Courier Press, March 27, 2011

After a great week of hosting a Spring Break Camp at the University of Evansville, there were a lot of positive lessons on and off the field to draw from.

For many of these elementary school students who were on holiday vacation, it served as an initial experience in soccer; for others, it was an opportunity to hone their technique through skill-related games and instruction.

What each of our coaches did a great job of during the course of the week was stressing core values that transcend sport, often offering life lessons to aspiring athletes that are larger than whether they win or lose games.

One lesson we stress at each of our camps is ‘early is on time, and on time is late’ – meaning that the most serious players will not arrive right at the start of camp or the start of a session. The player who is early is also the player who will be most prepared, whether it is to start a soccer practice, or to start their day at school.

Another lesson we stress at our camps is about practice being permanent, and not perfect. What is put into practice, and how hard it is worked on, is what will be retained. I have seen a lot of players over the years that didn’t practice perfectly, and players should aspire to work hard at the lessons they learn from their coaches or teachers.

Our best campers were the ones who didn’t make excuses when things didn’t go their way. The special players do not look at roadblocks as obstacles, but rather as unique opportunities to become stronger or better. They also don’t point fingers at someone else when things don’t go their way.

A great article on The All Pro Dad website recently summed up this idea with an article titled “The Top 10 Excuses Children Make”. Some of the most commonly heard excuses that were referenced in the article included-

“I’m Not Big Enough” – “I’m too small to be a goalie” is one I have heard on different occasions, and had to be encouraged by a parent or coach who opted to limit a player’s aspirations rather than fuel their ability to dream. “I can’t play against the bigger/older kids” is another one. Child development stages are case-by-case for each young player. Do not allow complacency to a lesser standard be acceptable. Children skip grade levels. Small kids excel at sports. It happens, but not with excuses.

One of the best ways to take a player out of their comfort level and aid in their development is to have them play at a higher standard than they are used to, be it by putting them in different positions or having them play against players that are older or bigger. The analogy of playing against older players might be like a baseball batter using a weighted donut on their bat prior to stepping in the batter’s box – it might be heavier swinging the bat at first, but after taking the donut off the bat, it would be lighter and easier to swing. The more your player(s) are placed with heavier weights on their game, the lighter and easier it will become when they return to their natural state – like returning to playing soccer with other kids their own age.

We had some very good 9-year olds practicing with 11 and 12-year olds at camp this week, and have seen tremendous gains when those same boys have returned to play against opposition their own age or size.

“I can’t do it by myself” – one of the greatest attributes you can teach your children is self-reliance. It is important for a coach to be able to motivate and discipline their athletes, but the best athletes are the ones who are self-motivated and self-disciplined. I have always thought a great example of someone’s character is how you behave when you think no one is watching; a great example of someone’s integrity is whether you will do the right thing without having to be asked to do so. Both of those important aspects relate to not only being taught strong values, but how to apply them without having someone hold your hand.

I believe that 9 out of 10 times, when kids come to camp lacking those skills, that they probably are influenced by a lack of encouragement in those areas at home. It all goes back to ‘practice makes permanent’ – to become strong and independent, it needs to be encouraged at home, too – not just at practice or at school.

“It’s too hard” – It is certainly natural to seek the route that is easiest and will keep us in our comfort zone. The best parents and coaches will help their children rise to the challenge and overcome the obstacles in front of them, and encourage and motivate during these tough times.

We saw young players make great strides in learning soccer skills this week, but hopefully had players leave with some valuable life lessons as well.

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