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  • Writer's pictureTracey Hemphill

The Magic of Participation and how it prepares you for life.

Updated: Jul 23, 2019

Tracey Hemphill – BA Sport Psychology, HMS, PGCE, SSA Level 3, ASCA Level 5 accredited coach, Transformational Life Coach.

“We live for that one in a million moment.” As coaches and teaches, or anyone working with young children, this is your motivation. The reason you make the many sacrifices you will have to make, and do it gladly, without regret.

I recently sat in a meeting where we were asked to define the value of sport participation and this question hit the nerve of every single member in the meeting. Every single person in the meeting is actively involved in sports coaching and felt the emotional twang on the nervous system. Anyone involved in sport participation is there for emotional reasons, and is emotionally invested in creating that one in a million result.

I think it’s important to remind oneself regularly about the reasons for participation, and the benefits for the child and their development. There is a great article that was recently circulated on Facebook, that was written by a parent who responded to being asked why they spend so much on extra mural activities for their children. This article included all the life lessons they learn from taking part in these activities and how all these things carry over into the adult life. We need to reflect as teachers and coaches, as to the “why” we invest so much in this area, how we add value to this experience and what the child will take from it that will result in them growing up into a successful adult. It is a small role to play, but a hugely significant one.

Coaches and teachers usually have the goal of improving skill and performance in their athletes. Further, the goal is for the improvement to be permanent and for the skill to transfer from practice to competition. In order to accomplish these goals we must understand the nature of children and adolescents, the environments which nurture skill development in children and adolescents and our behaviors as teachers and coaches. With those goals in mind, let’s address three questions: Why do coaches and teachers teach sports? Why do children enjoy sports? What are the collateral results and objectives of participation?

Why do coaches and teachers teach sports? We thrive in seeing a child achieve and get the results they seek. It is a learning experience for them that has many facets. Learning is defined as a permanent change in performance, resulting from practice,characterized by changes in the CNS (central nervous system) therefore not directly observable,and as efficient, effective and reliable. (Schmidt, 1991)

We could consider learning to have occurred when an athlete can do a skill with consistency and confidence. The issues which influence how children and adolescents learn and change skills include: motivation, control of movement, stages of learning, information processing, feedback and physical growth and maturation.

I believe that learning has a universal transfer, in that most athletes perform well academically as well. This could be because when they participate in an activity they are also learning and stimulating the brain, which is brain gym, for lack of a better description. The variations and consistency of stimulation on the brain and the nervous system is beneficial to physical and mental development, further adding to the benefits of maintaining and encouraging a sports program for all young learners


So getting back to the original question: Why do teachers and coaches teach sports? It is because we see the holistic value for learners for their emotional, mental and physical development. Learning occurs, skills are developed and maintained, and the child will have to learn how to deal with the many emotional experiences that come with sports participation.

Why do children enjoy sports? For some, it is a break away. An opportunity to escape the rigid demands of other areas of life. If their experience begins as play, you will be nurturing a love of participation and possibly create a lifelong participant who will maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives. That in itself leads to an individual, who in a leadership position will lead with energy, enthusiasm and by example.

For others there will be an ego factor, where their participation will create status. Ego orientated athletes will be driven and motivated by improvement largely. Evaluation and measurement is by win or lose, so the coach can be a little challenged here in trying to get the athlete to see value in the task and processes that also add to the experience.

There are athletes who are task orientated, who will be motivated by process and execution, and these learners have a clear understanding of the relationship between hard work and improvement. These athletes are likely to carry skills such as goal setting and achievement, skills tracking and measurement, into their professional life. This of course, is a fantastic value and will likely result in them being great leaders of their industry.

What are the collateral results and objectives of participation? Accepting ownership, Taking responsibility, Goal setting, Learning how to follow the rules, Honesty and Discipline are just some of the documented values that athletes take out of participation in a sports program. In the case of the one in a million result, a major motivating factor for coaches and teachers , where all of these elements come together to produce a golden moment and what some might call the complete athlete, is not the single, deal breaking reason for our commitment to these athletes. Watching an athlete move through the system and grow into a functional adult, having tackled the road of participation filled with successes and failures, hardships and celebrations, is something that can be achieved with all young people who participate in a sports program, not just the winners.

The real magic happens when you create a relationship of trust, and a child who can operate with autonomy. They will grow into an adult with great values. The goal of teachers and coaches is to work themselves out of a job, but contributing to the development of a child who is independent. Athletes are independent when they are skilled, can detect and correct errors on their own, feel confident, competent, can take action on their own and hold themselves accountable for their decisions and behaviors. Coaches and teachers will always be needed, but the role shifts from constant guidance to intermittent advice.

The key to instruction at all levels of expertise is trust. Athletes return to trusted coaches for advice, athletes learn best from trusted teachers. The basic component of trust is the truth, and so feedback must be genuine, positive, and encouraging, and always with the end goal in mind.

Childhood and adolescence are both difficult and magical times. Adults who are sensitive to the developmental changes and needs of the child, and to the need for magic will enjoy instruction and coaching and make the experience better for the children. Magic includes love, kindness, communication, care, fun, trust and skill. It is everything a child enters a sport to find, and will be the very thing they will carry into their adult life and have the ability to create it for themselves.

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