When you are coaching youth sports, it is important to allow time at every practice for the kids to talk to each other. It will build friendships and respect that will last a lifetime. Youth sports offer kids a lot of opportunities. One of the greatest is to make new friends.
I love the first day of practice. The kids always arrive with enthusiasm as well as some level of apprehension. Some kids are used to being on a “new” team because they have already been on 10 teams by the time they are ten-years-old as is the case with my son at only eight years old. At the same time, other kids are playing on their very first team.
The first day provides an excellent opportunity to get the kids talking. First day introductions are the best way to start any youth season. Having the kids sit together and introduce themselves to the team is the traditional icebreaker. In this method each child will say his/her name, grade and something specific about himself or herself. Over the years I have enjoyed this so much that I decided to make a permanent part of my practice routine.
Since kids thrive in a consistent and caring environment, I start every practice the same way no matter what sport I am coaching. First, we stretch together as a team. Then, I’ll pick a point, such as the outfield fence if we are playing baseball, and tell the kids to jog to that point as a team. I tell them that this is not a race and that they must get their together. Once they are there, they are to walk back as a team and talk to each other.
Before I send them to their destination, I give them a topic to talk about on the way back. I give them a different topic each week. The topics should be fun and age appropriate. Here are a few examples:
- What did you have for lunch today?
- Favorite thing to do outside
- Favorite thing to do inside
- Something you did to help someone this week
- Ice cream or Popsicle? And what flavor?
- Favorite restaurant
When the kids get back, I ask them one by one to tell the team something they learned about one of their teammates. They smile and laugh as they share what they learned. You might not have time to ask every kid to share, so make sure you alternate which kids you ask from practice to practice. This way they all feel included throughout the season.
During this exercise I always witness a group of kids go from talking to listening. The first few times you do this exercise, you will notice that half the kids don’t remember what their teammate told them. Kids in grades K-6 typically spend more time waiting to talk than they do actually listening. This exercise gets them to listen to each other in a fun and engaging way. Practice makes perfect, so we practice listening.
As the kids learn more about each other, their friendship grows, and the joy of playing together on the team increases. It’s true, good friends make great teammates.
If you decide to try this exercise at your practice, please post a comment and share how it went.