”You can reach world class through early specialisation, intense training and competition from an early age. But it comes at a cost.” Something along those lines was one of the take home messages delivered by Jean Côté from Queens University in Canada, when the Swedish council for sports research (CIF) turned 30 years old this week. CIF celebrated by sharing some of the knowledge that has emerged thanks to the funds that CIF has distributed over the years, and combined this with a couple of invited internationally recognised researchers in a fully booked conference where 200 people from sport federations, clubs, universities and communities came together to gain new insights.
Professor Côté’s work on development models in children’s and youth sport is highly regarded and used by organisations from the FA to the Swedish ice-hockey federation. All those who wants to avoid the negative effects of early specialisation, for example reduced enjoyment, increased stress and anxiety, dropout, increased numbers of injuries, not to mention the lack of diverse experiences, better listen very carefully when Jean speaks about sampling, deliberate play and perhaps most of all, transformational coaching.
The transformational coach continuously discusses, and models, values and behaviours. At the same time he or she shows vulnerability and humility while expressing confidence in athletes capabilities. The coach discusses goals and expectations while providing meaningful and challenging tasks, many times based on the athletes’ input. The transformational coach shares leadership responsibilities, emphasises learning, recognises accomplishments and contributions. At the same time the coach is interested in feelings and perspectives.
To me, this sounds like a coach or a leader most of us would want to be around. Both in sport and at work. And to very little surprise it is a leadership that I would guess can prove a useful component in what Amanda Visek explains as the ”positive coaching” that children rate pretty high up the list of the 81 determinants that make sport fun. Having fun is the number one reason children participate in sport. Not having fun is the reason the same children leave. Visek’s research shows that the most common determinants of fun are no different between girls and boys nor between younger and older children (all the way up to age 19 in fact). However, there is a difference between what children say and what coaches say they think children say is fun.
So to quote my good friend Stuart Armstrong – ”change the coach(-ing) or change the coach”. Children deserve this. Adults can do it.