The thoughts and ideas I’m about to share come from different resources, inspirations, personal experiences, and most importantly, from the families and athletes with whom I work. As I mentioned in my last blog, all the athletes I train have very different learning styles and, for that reason, they each add their own unique style to the games and exercises in which they participate. The best opportunities for success in young athletes come from a coach’s ability to connect and build a rapport with his or her athlete. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a coach is the ability to help foster an athlete's potential and love for physical activity. Without this bond (which is a combination of trust, respect, patience, and care), it’s extremely difficult to create opportunities. However, once a bond is established, the opportunities for you and your athlete will be limitless.
When I meet an athlete and the family for the first time, the most common approach I take is to ask a lot of questions. In order to find out how I can help, and if I’m a good fit for the athlete (and the family), I need to know as much as possible: medical history, injuries, surgeries, spectrum of learning history (autism, ADHD, learning disability), developmental history (motor skills, hearing, balance, speech/comprehension), and history of physical activity. The more information I gather, the better. After speaking with the parents, I begin to work with my athlete. One of the best ways to get to know someone is by doing something fun. Therefore, I like to have all sorts of equipment on hand:
- Spot Markers - I have an assortment of colors and shapes (stars, circles, feet and hand prints)
- Cones - different sizes and shapes
- Balls - big, small, assorted colors, and assorted textures
- Agility Ladder
- Exercise Dice
- Rainbow Hurdles
- Bean Bags
The list is almost endless. Whichever piece of equipment the athlete gravitate towards is what we play with first. As we play, I’ll ask things like: Who is your favorite superhero? What is your favorite video game? What is your favorite sport? Who is your favorite athlete? As I continue to ask questions (essentially learning an athlete's likes and dislikes), I begin to inject my thoughts and feelings and try to establish a connection.
I utilize two sets of assessment methods, which enable me to go through a checklist of things I need to know that will be helpful in creating opportunities for my athlete. I acknowledge Eric Chessen, owner of Autism Fitness, for the PAC profile and the International Youth Coaching Association for FMP. Below is a description of how I utilize the two methods:
1) Physical - Adaptive - Cognitive (PAC) Profile: I utilize this method when building a foundation for my athletes. There’s an old saying: “If you’re going to build a house in the sand, you need a strong foundation." The PAC profile is the brick and mortar of my program designing.
P - Physical abilities: how well he/she moves when walking, squatting, jumping, pushing/pulling, rotating, catching, throwing, and kicking.
A - Adaptive abilities: how well he/she engages in new activities and reacts to adverse situations, e.g., learning a new skill.
C - Cognitive abilities: how well he/she follows directions.
2) Fundamental - Movement - Principles (FMP): I utilize Fundamental Movement Principles as the aesthetic features to my program design. For example, when renovating your home, you may want crown molding, cherry wood floors, specialty lighting, granite counters, etc. FMP allows me to take the basics and progress or regress the sequence through which specific skill sets can be learned. Stay tuned for Part Two of this blog.
Once I’ve finished my assessment, I have a better idea of how I can create a customized program for my athlete. My goal for each athlete is to develop optimal movement patterns. This can be achieved using different exercises, games, and activities that challenge the body and mind. Ultimately, my objective is to get an athlete to move fluidly with minimal effort. Please keep in mind that every athlete is different. This includes gross and fine motor skills, proprioception (body awareness in space), coordination, balance, flexibility, strength, and endurance.
The glue that holds all of this mad science together is rapport. The process of rapport building promotes open communication, trust, and most importantly, the desire for the athlete to participate. Rapport allows me to push my athletes without breaking the bond of a working relationship. Finally, rapport must be maintained. This is not a one and done deal. As with any relationship, there needs to be constant communication, commitment, and compromise. These 3 C’s are the keys to a flourishing relationship between a coach and his/her athlete.