Why Kids Hate Practice. Five Reasons Why, & How You Can Change It
By: Scott Lancaster - February 2008
You could hear it in any household, almost every season, it begins early in the year and often gets worse as the season wears on - “I don’t want to go to practice!” “Can I skip practice today?” “I hate practice!”
Yes we all experience it, yet do we attempt to get to the root of it? Or do we naturally react with “You signed up for this team, you’re going to practice and be committed to your team!” It all sounds like the right thing to do, after all teaching your child that backing out of things after making a commitment, because they don’t like it, is wrong.
In theory we are right, but are we seeing the forest through the trees.
Let’s first understand why kids dislike practice. One of the first reasons you always hear is that “practice is boring”. Naturally we respond by thinking and I often hear parents say, “Practice is about learning and getting better, not about having fun.” Now, put yourself in your child’s shoes.
If they think there is no way practice can be fun they basically give up, and as a result there is no chance they will learn or improve. If it’s not fun it’ll not be engaging therefore you’ll not capture their attention. Think about how easily children teach themselves how to play a new video and/or computer game.
Many of these games are not the easiest to learn yet your child masters them in no time. Why does this happen? It’s fairly simple, it’s fun to play computer and video games and as a result the child immediately becomes engaged in the process of learning. The same holds true for sports and practices.
What do kids dislike about practice?
1. Too much down time and standing around. Practices that have large amounts of interruptions such as coaches taking time to figure out what they should do next, long lines with kids waiting for their next turn, or coaches who stop practice to give long explanations, all contribute to a boring practice in a kid’s mind.
This is not how you keep a kid’s attention. A kid will experience their most productive learning when it takes place in fast paced increments that are experiential. Continuous command instruction with limited repetitions, and no opportunity to experiment with what they just learned, is extremely boring for kids. Now think about how your practices are organized and paced.
2. Not receiving equal attention. It’s fairly easy to coach and pay all your attention to the stars of your team. But coaching is about teaching new and improving upon skills. If more times needs to be spent with any athlete on your team it should be with ones that are struggling. Everyone should receive attention, but special attention should be paid to your weakest athletes.
3. Not experiencing improvement. Practice should specifically attempt to improve upon both team and individual’s weaknesses. Practices should not be a replication of your games. In other words if your practices are primarily scrimmages kids will not experience significant improvement.
Very little teaching takes place during scrimmages. As Head Penn State Football Coach, Joe Paterno says, “If you can’t coach, scrimmage.” Practices should be productive and engaging learning experiences, not an extension of your game schedule.
What’s the best way to design and run your youth practices? The following is a checklist of how to improve and make your practices a more contemporary and rewarding part of your athlete’s season.
1. Set overall objectives for your team to achieve prior to the start of your season. Objectives can vary by sport or team, but they may include limiting mental errors on the baseball field, executing all the basics of tackling and blocking in football, winning more 50/50 balls in soccer, reducing your opponents number of second shots in basketball, etc.
Set several key objectives for the season, design specific drills and games that emphasizes their execution in practice and track your team’s progress with these objectives throughout the season.
2. Plan and choreograph every practice. Practices should be designed into small timed segments no longer than 10 to 15 minutes. The rule of thumb here is that a child’s attention span is no longer in minutes than their age. For example an 8 year old should be taught in 8 minute timed segments that progress to the next portion of the skill or a new drill. Practices should also be no longer than 90 minutes. Your goal should be to have kids disappointed that practice has ended and looking forward to their next practice.
3. Eliminate lines and increase equal repetitions for every athlete. Pair off every athlete the best you can by ability and be sure that instruction is brief and a majority of each timed segment is spent on repetitions.
4. Start and finish each practice on a high note by pumping everyone up. Kids love getting excited and pumped up, you can do this by creating a chant that builds slowly to a loud cheer and sends every athlete away ready to execute and perform. If your practices start off slow and uninspired it’s difficult to create enthusiasm for what your about to teach.
If you end your practices abruptly without sending each athlete away excited about what they just learned you miss a great opportunity to reinforce the last 90 minutes. Some of the best practices I’ve seen at the elite levels of college begin and end with the entire team gathered at the center of the field jumping up and down as a group chanting and inspiring each other.
Try it and observe how your athletes react to the experience. There is nothing wrong in sports to be a little kid-like as their coach.
5. Design mini-competitions throughout each practice that measure both individual and group progress. Immediately after each drill, that teaches a particular technique or fundamental, create a competition that incorporates a point system for the correct execution of those fundamentals. Be creative and design games and competitions that emphasize things you have just taught, if you’re struggling to come up with these search this web site for suggestions.
6. Incorporate surprises into practices. Everyone likes a surprise, especially if it changes things up. For example, if you have baseball practice for 8 year olds, surprise them with baseball cards. As practice is going on, and you witness an athlete executing correctly reward them with a card. At any given practice you can find a reason to reward every athlete for something they have done correctly or for giving extra effort.
7. After-practice specialization. If you find it necessary or feel your athletes could benefit, offer after practice specialization in particular fundamentals of the game. For example it could be executing corner kicks, or goalie work, but offer it to anyone who is interested for an additional 30 minutes after specific practices.
Remember we need to be aware that kids can become disenchanted with sports. However we can incorporate some simple changes that can make their experience contemporary and enjoyable therefore keeping their passion alive for sports and an active lifestyle throughout their childhood.
Scott Lancaster is the CEO and founder of Youth Evolution Sports, the next generation of youth sports skill progression and training. Scott was also the Director of the NFL's Youth Football Program and has authored 2 books - Fairplay and Athletic Fitness for Kids.