Teach Kids Using What They Already Know

By Steve Boyle

I thought I’d share one of those great “crossover effect a-ha” moments I had recently with my youngest athletes. I was trying to teach the concept of defending against the “give and go” as we were beat repeatedly by it in the prior game. As defenders, most players instinct when the ball is passed – is to snap their head in the direction it was thrown to see where it went. In girls lacrosse, we actually teach girls offensively to “look for the swinging ponytail” (easy for a guy with no hair to suggest :-). Offensively, when the tail swings, that’s your cue to cut toward the goal. In basketball (as is transferrable to most sports), to defend against this, we teach to “retreat to the line of the ball” while maintaining a position where you can see both the ball and your player. As much as I demonstrated this skill, two girls in particular just couldn’t seem to grasp the concept. Their basketball instincts – for some reason – kept telling them to leave their man and go double team -or worse, just staring at the player who had the ball, as opposed to retreating to a help position and leading the cutter (her player) though the area. But then I realized their primary sport was soccer! So, I simply put the ball on the floor, passed the ball by foot to the same exact girl I had passed to in the air – and asked the same defender to show me what she would do in soccer. To my amazement – she responded perfectly. Instead of snapping her head, she simply kept an eye on the original passer, looked for the ball in the corner of their eye (using peripheral vision) and led the now-turned-soccer player into the (basketball key) making it impossible for them to receive a pass. When I suggested that this was all we were asking her to do as a basketball defender, she got it. Simple as that!
As coaches, we tend to get frustrated when kids can’t grasp concepts that are seemingly so easy to us – and that frustration translates to kids as, “You’re not coachable” we need to not only remember being our TOP Selves but also, learning the basics matters.  Stay patient, stay creative, keep it fun and in perspective and teach kids using what they already know.