Saturday, September 24, 2011

Learn by doing

My experiment is paying off. 

Levi trapped the ball on defense, waited, carried around an oncoming player, passed it up-field and then dropped off the play, settling into the precise position a defender should be in for the next ball to come his way.

This spring I watched my 7th grade daughter's softball team play a forty-five minute first inning.  Neither team had a put-out on defense, a hit, or a strike out.  Each team walked the entire batting order around.  Some pitches landed three feet in front of the pitcher; most went three feet over the up or short of the plate.

I watched her team at practice.  They started off with the coach hitting grounders to the team, one player at a time.  Grounder, catch (or miss), throw it back in, next player.  All fourteen.  Each player handled the ball for about two seconds every five minutes.  Batting practice was (of necessity?) pitched by the coach.

It dawned on me that these kids never actually spend any time playing sports and consequently they have no skills at sports.  Practices are short and made up of skills drills.  The coach tries to get their attention for five minutes to explain the drill, then runs them through it for another ten.  Each kid maybe gets one minute of experience in a ten minute drill.  The rest of their lives fully scheduled, they never play sand-lot baseball.  I'd doubt they know what "ghost runner on third" means.

There's no play in the sports.

So I decided that this fall, when I coached the boy's soccer team, I wouldn't do any drills.  I'd go full scrimmage from the first player to show up.  And so my experiment.  I have a whistle.  When it blows, everyone freezes where they are and I ask what's going on, make them think and answer, and then blow the play back on with another whistle.  If the play is at the other end of the field, I'm guiding my players, explaining and showing where to be and why.  In this way I am, single-handed, keeping fourteen nine to eleven year old boys fully engaged and playing soccer for an hour, giving them a full season's worth of drill and experience every week. 

And so Levi, one of my favorite human beings, went from a defensive mindset of boot-the-ball to trapping it, carrying it around an oncoming player, passing it up the field to his wing, and falling back into position.  In a span of ten minutes.  And he kept doing it.

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