Sunday, 28 September 2014

Thoughts on Working with Early Teens...

We've all likely been there.  Our delightful, fun-loving, well adjusted children seemingly overnight transforming into beings from outerspace.  Whether you're a teacher, a coach, a youth leader or parent, you've likely seen this metamorphisis.  At 12 or 13, many kids become social networking gurus - responding to an innate need to grow their own branches that connect to the world around them.  Many early adolescents are driven to make choices for themselves but yet caught between the two worlds of childhood and adulthood.  How do we help adolscents navigate these unfamiliar waters.  What kind of a paddle would we recommend? What type of boat? How do we help them to read a map or use a gps device? How do we support them in charting a course? when do we step in to offer advice? when do we let them make their own mistakes? how do we facilitate a group adolescent beings?  These are types of things I think about when coaching early adolescents.

So what does it look like to engage early adolescents?  In my work with adoloscents at a residential treatment centre for 12-16 year olds with severe social/emotional/behavioural challenges, we aim to interact in a number of ways that gives responsibility to adolescents.  These include:

- providing opportunities for youth to make positive choices - hey, you know what you need to do...
- offering intentional teaching interactions that provide explanations and rationales
- offering cause and effect messages - when you do this, that often happens...
- sometimes giving directive messages is appropriate - hey, this needs to happen now...

Can we use these ideas when working with adolescents in a cross country ski coaching context?  for sure we can.  No matter what demographics kids come from, when you get a group of adolescents together, they love to talk - what do you do as a coach to get there attention on a teaching and learning task?  giving kids an instruction, and creating some understanding about what you're looking for and what you want them to do, then backing of letting them get to it is an important skill. 

Great coaches are very deliberate about their instruction and feedback.  These include providing rationales.  For adolescents, my experience tells me that these youth want to understand, they want more than just to be told 'do this, cause I'm the expert'.  Giving adolescents the message that 'hey if it takes a long time to get your attention, we have less time to ski and less time for me to coach' is a cause and effect message.  My experience is that adolescents respond well to this kind of interaction from a coach, rather than a coach who gets angry or yells.

In the end though, after being given opportunities to make positive choices, and some teaching around what and why, and then some cause effect messages, it sometimes becomes necessary to be directive.

Whats important, I think, is to use all the tools in your toolkit.  These tools are easier to use when you know that you have them.

Coaching adolescent cross country ski racers has been and continues to be one of the great joys of my life.  Good luck with your coaching this year. 

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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