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The Importance of Early Positive Experiences

By David Jacobson, Positive Coaching Alliance

What was your first impression of baseball, softball, or whatever sport you first played as a child? Was it positive? If not, did you play a long time?

Your answers will start you along the way toward ensuring that your players do have early positive experiences. Creating an environment where children love what they are doing and want to continue is critical, as you can see in this video of Shellie Pfohl, Executive Director of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, from PCADevZone.org.

As Ms. Pfohl says, fun is the key to a child’s early positive experience with sports. When you laugh and smile and joke, so will your young players. Yes, you want to keep order and run drills and build skills, and that means your players will have to pay attention, but it’s not a business meeting.

The more you have them up, moving, engaged, getting reps, seeing improvement in themselves and their friends, and hearing your specific, truthful praise, the more fun Little League® is, and the more likely the team will settle down and listen when necessary. What else is fun?

  • Running races, especially relays around the bases that improve base-running technique.
  • Getting dirty on practice slides into home plate.
  • Home-run derbies or infield/out for the non-power hitters.
  • Contests in throwing for distance and accuracy.
  • Anything competitive where winning doesn’t seem like a matter of life or death.

However, fun is not the only factor. Young players also need to feel comfortable. Depending on who their parents and teachers are, you might be the biggest, strongest, loudest person they have ever encountered. That can be scary to some. Strong personalities are great, but be aware that some children will respond better to your quieter voice and your eyes at their eye level.

Also, don’t underestimate how much their friends mean to them. Many kids constantly compare themselves to each other and keep a close eye on whose where in the pecking order among themselves and in coach’s eyes. Even the players who earn your highest praise may not have a positive experience unless they see their friends enjoying the experience, too.

There will be days when all this seems trying. That can result from your work day, or too many players with too much sugar and not enough sleep from the previous night’s birthday party. Even when not everyone is at their best all the way through a practice or game, still make an extra effort to end on a positive note.

You want to keep them wanting to come back for the next practice, the next game, and the next season. A major goal of any Little League coach is to not be a child’s last.

Additional free resources from PCA are available at www.PCADevZone.org. For more ideas on getting the most out of your players while teaching life lessons, take the full-length Little League Double-Goal Coach® Course at http://shopping.positivecoach.org/Little-League-DGC, or free Little League Double-Goal Coach® Quick Course at http://www.littleleague.org/pca.