I was reading this great article from Ash Smith over at www.superhumanperformance.org which was all about how kids developing amazing abilities by challenging each other and trying to outdo the last trick or skill they have performed.
It took me back to my childhood when I used to invent games with my brother and freinds to play in the park or the garden and I recognise now that this helped me to develop my abilities in a big way and also were the first steps on my coaching journey.
Essentially, I was using a constraints based model for game design without knowing it!
For example one of the games was a garden cricket game played with a golf ball and a really thin bat we called 'Golf Ball Nightmare'!
Golf Ball Nightmare (GBN) was so called for a couple of reasons..
1. It was a golf ball and if it hit you in the shin or on the knuckle then it hurt which was a nightmare. There was a healthy element of fear involved!
2. We played towards the house and if you caught one with the bat then it could hurtle towards the patio window. The bowler had to be brave and stop the ball from smashing the window so as to stop us from being grounded for the rest of our lives!
The game was intense but it was one of the best games we played, we would play for hours and took great pleasure whenever we smashed each oher on the shins and laughed as the other person hopped around holding their lower leg!
The reason the game worked was because it was brilliantly designed!
We started with the player experience...what did we want from the game?
We wanted to all have a go at batting regularly so the game had to be hard so that people got out a lot.
It had to have fear so that we could show our bravery or laugh at each other when we got a bit hurt but it couldn't be too dangerous or we wouldn't want to play.
You had to show skill to stay in bat.
Everyone needed to be involved, fielding is boring so we needed to make sure that fielders had some skin in the game. They really had to be on their toes to stop the windows getting smashed and us all getting into really deep trouble.
The golf ball bounced more realistically than a tennis ball.
Most of this design happened by accident and we made up most of the rules as we went along, modifying and tweaking the way it was played in order to make it harder or easier, more dangerous or less dangerous.
A big part of the fun was making up the rules and coming up with the game formats.
Jane McGonigal is a game designer and she talks pasiionately about the role that games and play can have to enrich our lives. I can definitely align with that!
I am left thinking how much the youth sports experience is like this.
The vast majority of kids aren't playing garden games like this anymore as they are so hooked into video games that are designed by very smart people who spend their lives working out ways to make their games more fun and more addictive so that the kids want to play again and again.
So our challenge is to think like these super smart game designers and try and beat them at their own game. We have to create really 'sticky' activities that they are going to want to do again and again.
So here are some questions to ask yourself when you are designing your activity?
Is everyone engaged?
Is there a challenge that makes them strive to go beyond their abilities?
Do players get loads of goes or do they need to stand around and wait?
Does the activity require them to solve a problem?
Do they have to think about solutions themselves and work it out or do they get given the answers?
Do they get feedack that encourages the effort in trying rather than just praise which encourages not failing?
Does it simulate the game effectively, is it realistic to what they will confront when they play in matches?
For some of us, thinking through these activities and coming up with games or activities that answer these questions is a really challenge...
So I will give you a couple of secrets...
1. Just use trial and error.
The first go at anything is rarely the best version so be prepared to flex and improve as you go. Some of my best activities have come from me having to solve a problem in the session because something wasnt working and making a tweak that made the whole activity loads better.
2. Get the kids to design with/for you.
Kids are really creative and they love designing games. They will come out with some crazy ideas that you won't even think of, you can then distill these down into something that will be really good. I often ask the question "how can we make this even better" or "how can we make it harder". The answers are usually genius.
Some people are fearful of this because they think that they will look like they don't know what they are doing?
I would answer like this...
Do we want to look good...or do we want to get better? Do we have a Growth Mindset as coaches or do we have a Fixed Mindset?
I will leave Trev Ragan from www.trainugly.com to reinforce the point.
Get out there and coach ugly!
Listened to your podcast with Jeremy Boone this morning, really enjoyed it.
If I can ask, I was really interested in what you said about consequences during games. I was wondering what sort of consequences you have been using. How you felt it had affected the level of competition and if there were any situations that you aren’t using them?"
This article is based on my reply....
A lot has been said about the use of consequences in practice and I do know some coaches and governing bodies who do not like the concept. use of the word consequences conjures up images of kids being 'beasted' or punished which is an understandable fear but from my perspective I think it is an essential tool which, if used skillfully, can really aid in the development of skill and performance.
For me consequences create an outcome which creates intensity (see my previous post on that) and intensity creates mental engagement which builds skill. Too often I see players going through the motions by training in a way that is not game realistic. It is not surprising then when they get to the fierce competetive arena of the game that the skills break down. I hear coaches talking about this all the time when they talk about players 'reverting to type' under pressure. 'Reverting to type' is just inadequate preparation in by book.
Consequences create pressure and pressure creates a training environment that is closer to the real thing.
So how do I do it...
I like to use a mixed diet of consequences depending on the group or the situation. Just to be clear I only use consequences in training and practice activities not competitive games.
My favourite technique is to get the players to come up with the consequence themselves. A couple of weeks ago I asked the group to create a forfeit and they came up with singing! It was hilarious to see the losing team perform a rendition of 'let it go' from Frozen to the other team who all got their camera phones out to video it!
Another week, they decided that the losing team had to cook for the winning team at a forthcoming team social evening. Wow that was a doozy!
The other thing I do is use ongoing internal leagues so that as we get towards the end point of each league and the players are aiming to win or avoid losing the intensity rises.
At the start of the season I use physical consequence to build conditioning into training sessions. I use it as a way of 'gamifying' sessions that are focussed on the basics. It is always done with the players agreement as I ask them if they agree that conditioning will be important to achieving our goals and then I ask the to choose if they want conditioning within the session or separately (they invariably pick conditioning included). We establish the perimeters of the exercise together and set the goals. They then agree what they will do as a consequence if they fail to achieve their goals. It is amazing how high they set the bar!
If I do use a physical consequence, I present it as an opportunity to improve our performance by being fitter and stronger than any other team in our league. I find that getting the players training with the fear of the conditioning prepares our mindset and means that we are gritty and tough in games because we have been through worse in training.
I can't stress enough this aspect of 'selling the why' before going down tis route. The use of consequences has to be congruent with their goals but, used well, it is very powerful. I I have also found that this approach really builds team cohesion and develops team spirit as well as building character in young players, the sense of challenge and overcoming adversity is something that really grabs hold of some players.
I hope this helps
Professor Dweck is clearly very busy at the moment, she has recently given a TED talk in scandanavia which you can see below. This has prompted me to develop 10 practical ways to help developing a 'Growth Mindset' which should help when working with children and young people.
My 7 year old son came up to me recently and asked me how he could improve the drawing he had done...maybe the work I have been doing is paying off!!
Avoid labels - "you are smart", "you are clever". Focus instead on how they do what they do.
Get them to explain their process "tell me more about how you did that, what was the strategy you used?"
Explain to the child that the brain is like a muscle which benefits from training. The brain can be trained through trial and error. The secret is to persevere and to fall in love with the struggle.
If they do something that is easy for them and they are expecting praise, offer them an 'opportunity' to stretch themselves by saying, "I want to give you the opportunity to show me how well you can learn".
Apologise for creating a game or practice that isn't challenging enough for them. You will know it is working when they say to you..."we don't do easy".
Ask them if they want the easy task or the harder one. Use this as a test to see if they are on track.
Use the 'horizon strategy' to keep the achievement of the task just out of reach but still visible. Give them checkpoints so that they can still see their improvement.
Explain that you are less interested in them getting the answer right as much as you are interested in how they got to the solution.
Create an award for the 'top struggler'. Reward the person who has tried the hardest and had the most fails.
Always explain that you can't make things easy because easy isn't fun. You want them to have fun and the fun comes from working hard at something.