Thursday, 13 November 2014

Getting kids to 'I'm good at this'...

In the coaching workshops I lead, the conversation often eventually gets to talking about how to deal with kids so they develop the self confidence to stay engaged with sport after they get to an age where having their parents sign them up for skiing isn't a good enough reason to stay involved any more. How do you help kids to develop the belief that they can make their own learning happen; where they are motivated intrinsically to participate; where they strive to learn as much as possible; where they don't use self handicapping strategies; where they don't have dependence on an adult; where they don't dismiss praise or feedback; where their standards are not so high that when they don't reach them, they crumble; where they don't compare themselves to others.  These are some good questions, and likely you've run into kids who struggle with one or more of these things.

What is important to know as a coach, is that we can do something about all of these hurdles to self confidence.  We can do some teaching around them.  In John Hattie's book, Visible Learning for Teachers, he talks about these self processes and offers some ideas to working with kids around these topics. Recognizing an ineffective coping strategy when we see it, and offering an alternative to kids is work that master coaches of children and adolescents do. Here are few ideas to working with a few of these self concept challenges.

Self Efficacy - this is believing you can do it.  Children with high self efficacy see a challenging task and think 'it'll be hard, but I can do it'.  As a coach, we can encourage self efficacy, by giving the message 'you are capable, you can do this' and by teaching kids this strategy - 'hey, you want to know something that works, when you see a big hill to climb, think to yourself, I am going to kick that hill's butt'.

Self Handicapping - sometimes kids create obstacles for themselves to deflect the cause of failure away from their competence and towards some acquired impediment.  This can look like procrastination, having low challenge goals, exaggerating obstacles to success.  As a coach, we can help kids set realistic goals and identify self handicapping as a negative coping strategy.

Self Motivation - this is in relation to intrinsic or extrinsic attribution of effort.  Intrinsically motivated kids say 'how do I learn more', 'how do I get my skill to the next level'.  Extrinsically motivated kids 'do I get a cookie', 'will this help me win a medal'.  Research would point to larger learning gains associated with intrinsic motivation.  As coaches, we can create a norm in our group around 'here is what a great athlete does','here is how a great athlete thinks'.

Approach and Avoidance - Approach goals refers to an athlete who strives to learn as much as possible to master the learning goal - whether it is double poling, or herringbone.  A kid with an approach strategy tries to learn as much as possible.  Avoidance goals refers to striving not to do worse than others.  Achievement is higher with approach goals compared to avoidance goals.  As a coach, we can identify avoidance goals as something to avoid. Instead we can point kids towards approach goals.

Self Dependence - Kids who are highly dependent on adults struggle more with self regulation, self monitoring, and self evaluating.  Although these are things that all kids learn, the fact is that as coaches we can create a culture where self dependence is encouraged and reinforced.  As with many of these self processes, we can teach and reinforce these strategies in our interactions with kids.

Self Discounting and Distortion - kids who self discount will dismiss or distort information such as praise,or feedback.  If you tell them they are pretty good at a skill, they will dismiss you and tell you you're wrong.  Obviously this is a pretty negative coping strategy. As coaches, we can identify this and give praise or feedback and then move on.  Thinking about a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback seems to work when working with kids who discount or distort.

Self Perfectionism - this is having too high a standard for yourself.  Its great to want perfection, but it takes time and that is something that we can help kids to learn - how to set reasonable and challenging benchmarks on their pathway to excellence.

Hopelessness - this refers to kids who expect that an achievement gain will not occur for them.  For whatever reason, maybe because they haven't experienced enough success, these kids have given up.  As coaches, we can help kids to use some self regulation strategies like saying OK when something challenging is put before them.

Hattie points out that self concept improves when kids:
- invoke learning strategies instead of comparing themselves to others
- accept rather than discount feedback
- set benchmarks for difficult goals
- compare themselves to performance criteria instead of other athletes
- develop a high efficacy for learning
- effect self regulation rather than hopelessness

All of these self concept ideas can be taught and I believe great coaches do these things. Great coaches of adolescents believe that every young skier is capable of learning and improving.  Great coaches of kids help them to improve their skiing, but they also help kids to develop the mindset to become a great skier.

I often reflect on the paradox of our sport.  Most often, the coaches who have the greatest capacity to effect change on athletes in our sport are also the same coaches who are farthest away from the athletes they could effect the most change on.  And, the coaches who can have the most influence on budding and developing athletes at exactly the age when its crucial often have less training and experience to do their important work.

Don't get me wrong, I know there are many, many skilled and qualified coaches working with adolescent cross country skiers.  But I also am well aware that there is very little out there for these coaches to learn from and reflect on.  Thus, my efforts with this blog.  I don't have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts - and blogs are the perfect platform for this type of sharing.

So coaches of adolescent cross country skiers - lets do something - lets create a community of practice where we can share out some ideas with each other about what works well and what works less well.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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