In keeping with the spirit of back-to-school and fresh starts, I want to share a few coaching tips from our Fun Bunch training session. Fun Bunch provides ongoing guidance for teaching and encouraging our special needs players, a key differentiator in what makes Fun Bunch great!
Two weeks ago, we held a mini Fun Bunch session to introduce some of our newest PPA coaches and volunteers to what a Fun Bunch session is like. Our mini session was designed to prepare them for what to expect from our players and also what we expect from them.
Here are a few highlights from our training that I think are useful for everyone who works with kids with disabilities:
1. Give only meaningful praise. This is a team, not the Suzie or Tommy show. Use praise and high fives to encourage a player individually and to promote teamwork and sportsmanship. These players are savvy to what is genuine praise.
2. Assume a player can before you assume they cannot. I watched a buddy tie a player’s shoe. Then I watched him turn red later as he observed that same player assist a teammate by tying her shoe. Don’t underestimate.
3. Expect success, but don’t require perfection. Take the cue from your player as to how much or how little support they need. Yes, we are teaching these kids to play soccer; yes, we want them to know the rules and play by them. That said, this is not a sprint, it is a marathon. I can name ten players who used to run around the field more than they participated for a few seasons, who are now leading the drills and coaxing teammates to come back to a station!
4. Don't take it personally. Sometimes, a player is going to behave in a way or say something that is not what you would expect. They might not stay with the group and complete the station. It’s okay. It does not reflect on you as a helper. All soccer players have drills they like, and drills they don't. This is not specific to Fun Bunch or kids with disabilities. Our players often communicate by walking away, and have a pure honesty about what they think, say or do.
5. Communicate clearly. Many of our players are visual learners so they need to see what you are describing. Repeat instructions with your words and your body. (Not necessarily at the same time. ) And make your instructions positive. “Don't kick it too hard” is not as clear as “Kick it gently, like this . . .” When in doubt choose a directive that tells the player what to do, not what not to do.
This is not a comprehensive list, but points I believe are important when working with kids with disabilities. If you give that young person a chance by acknowledging what they have to say and accepting what they bring to the experience, you will learn to make great choices.