Parents and coaches, how do we help our young people and our children leave the playing field with a smile of contentment and success on their faces?

Well, we obviously do that by the way that we interact with them before the game, during the game and after the game.

One of the things I’ve been thinking hard about is how helpful to young athletes succeeding and enjoying the match is tons of instructions during the game.  So took two clickers with me to watch an under-13 game of school rugby between two schools that have a very strong rugby tradition. I kept one clicker in one pocket and another clicker in another pocket.  I clicked every time there is just praise without instruction and every time an instruction is given from the sideline for the team I was supporting.  I only arrived in time for the last five mins of the first half because they started early. (I was having my coffee Saturday morning ‘me time’ coffee in Costa.) Six moments of praise in that five minutes and 16 instructions offered from the sideline in what is quite a one-sided game. Unfortunately, it finished five minutes early because of an injury, so effectively I only watched half a game. In that half, there were 21 positive comments that had no instructional value added to them and there were 67 instructions given in 25 minutes. All well-meaning, some really good helpful advice, but it left me thinking three things as I reflect on that.  (See the video below.)

Firstly, how would I feel if say, I had over a hundred instructions given to me in an hour? Just imagine that. You’re trying to do a task, a task you’re trying to enjoy and you’re given over a hundred instructions in an hour. I think there could be a few possible responses to that. Firstly, you’d just land up ignoring them. Secondly, you’d actually land up getting really, really cross and frustrated. And thirdly, it affects your feelings of competency around the task that you’re given.

Secondly, how much do all those instructions convey trust? Does it convey trust that I believe that my son was playing today and his friends can run that game and complete that game and task well? I’ll let you think about that.

Thirdly, does it create a codependency? A really unhealthy codependency on adult authority for decision-making? I’ve been re-reading again what is now a classic, “Legacy,” which talks about the All Blacks and on page 52, he quotes General George Sullivan, who says, “The competitive advantage is nullified when you try “to run decisions up and down the chain of command. “All platoons and tank crews have real-time information “on what is going on around them.” And it makes me think, actually, that the information that I had, and I made some of those instructions, I confess, was based on what I could see from the sideline, not the real-time information that I had with the ball in my hand.

How would I feel if I’d been given a hundred instructions in an hour? How would I respond to that? Would that diminish your fun? How much do a hundred instructions convey trust and enjoyment and satisfaction and how much does a set of a hundred instructions convey an understanding that I don’t have all the information? I’ll let you mull that over.

Certainly, for me, I know that I’m really challenged to keep schtum on the sideline and most people who know me know I’m a leader, I like to have opinions. But I’m starting to see just how ridiculously unhealthy that is for anybody underneath me or in my work environment and particularly for my children in a sporting context. I challenge you to take two clickers to your next game and count praise versus instructions given. Or why not ask your children to give you 100 instructions in an hour and see how it feels!

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(Video of the challenge, why not subscribe to my youtube channel.)