Sometimes the best way for a coach to teach is to step back from the field and just let the kids be kids and have fun.
When I was coaching soccer, I found that that some of the best practices my teams ever had were where I followed a "games-based" teaching approach - where I stepped off the field and told the team to take over the practice and do what they wanted, to organize the practices themselves, just so long as they had fun and were all moving, not standing around.
A lot of the practice consisted of small-sided (four-on-four) games and drills on small fields in which players move quickly and kick the ball very hard at each other at close range. While such drills are more typically part of a pre-practice warm-up in the U.S, the approach is designed to maximize "touches" (e.g. contact with the ball), and are often "the main event" in sports practices for soccer teams in Europe.
The Games Based Approach differs from more conventional methods of instruction, characterized by lining up and standing around, which relies on repetition. With the Games-Based Approach to teaching sports, all aspects of the sport, from the basic skills to more technical moves and strategies, are taught in the context of fun, yet instructive, games. Players practice skills with creative exercises.
The goals and benefits of the Games Based Approach include:
- It creates a sense of fun
- It keeps kids moving, so they spend more of the practice engaged in moderate- to vigorous physical exercise instead of standing around, which a new study shows, is the problem with most youth sports practices).
- It enables the coach to isolate and focus on specific skills
- It allows the coach to teach to the strengths of individual children and improve the weaknesses
- It enables the coach to better control the group. As a result, discipline is not the focus of the practice
- It allows creative play within the practice.
- It allows for versatility, from beginner to adult. No matter what a player's age or skill level, she can still benefit from games. And often, the games themselves need little adaptation across different levels of skill
- It fosters a positive learning environment and allows players to learn without the intense scrutiny of peers
- It accommodates children of all skill levels and personality types.