It’s summer – which means that sports camps have begun. Generally I only allow either of my children to participate in 1-2 camps. Why? Two primary reasons. One, when they are grown I want them to be well-rounded. I want them to be able to talk about their wide-variety of experiences. Two, to have these experiences we need to have…
Time to work in the garden
Time to visit ice cream factories
Time to visit caves (Recall Day #212 – Adventures)
Time to visit family
Time to dig holes
Time to swim
Time to well…just be a child – with an imagination and unlimited minutes.
Today, I snuck in a bit early to watch some of basketball camp from afar. We have had such amazing experiences with coaches – but in this moment I saw something. The coach was giving instruction. Tucker was in the back (because of height). There were two other small groups in the gymnasium doing other activities. Tucker started to pay attention…and then he lost it. Imagine being in a room with 100 televisions. Which one do you watch? That is what this feels like to him. He knows what he SHOULD be watching…but it’s nearly impossible. Too. Much. Input.
This led my husband and I to have a great conversation tonight about coaching and ASD. We’ve developed an initial top 10 list of ‘tips’ for coaching children on the spectrum.
First and foremost, know that it is important to give these children the EXACT same opportunity as the neurotypical children. Possibly moreso. These children feel singled out and different for most of their life – to be included, wanted, needed, and part of a team? That feeling is indescribable (for their parent, too).
1. A common coaching theme is the importance of eye contact. This is the very first way that a coach knows an athlete is engaged and paying attention. As a coach, you may or may not get this from a child on the spectrum. Why? Read Day #34 – Take 1, Take 2, Take 3, Take 4, Take 5, (you get the picture..but you don’t). Trust me, the lack of eye contact is NOT a sign of disrespect – it…well…it just is what it is. Trust me, as parents we have worked and worked and worked on this skills. You may get a prolonged glance – count yourself lucky with that.
2. As often as you can use the child when demonstrating something. Read Day #265 – Mrs Skinner. In this post Mrs. Skinner describes how she would remind the entire class that a worksheet had two sides – by using Tucker’s paper as an example. She’s so smart! This was so perfect – because she had his paper, he was forced to focus and pay attention to what she was saying. It’s the same here. If teaching a screen, pivot, shot, pass, (you get the point) – use the child on the spectrum to show the other players. If the child is involved that will lead to engagement. Many of these children are amazing visual and kinesthetic learners – they are able to copy and repeat skills rather than just listen to the words.
I also understand this is a bit tricky – a coach can’t always use the same child for equity purposes. So, in the moment – if it’s something you REALLY want that child to get? Use them.
3. Which leads me to – being explicit about what you want. Use the most concrete language as humanly possible. Saying, ‘tackle someone’ just won’t work. A coach needs to say, “Tucker, on this series I need you to tackle number 52, once you are done with him go after number 34.” I GUARANTEE he will do that. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. The instructions just have to be explicit and specific – with detail.
4. It’s all about the details. Provide more details than what you think you would ever need. Then, tell/show that athlete how the details fit together. Think of their learning like a puzzle – they often have trouble seeing the forest through the trees. Trust me, I am his mother. I understand the question overload – but he needs to know. Until he understands he will not complete his given task with full energy.
5. Be careful when allowing children to choose partners/teams. Remember that social situations are incredibly difficult – so their circle of ‘true’ friends is likely VERY small.
6. Be aware of environmental and sensory issues. Now, this seems fairly obvious. It would make sense to me that coaches inherently understand the ideas of proprioception (the position of body in space and the strength of effort employed in movement) and vestibular (negotiating balance) senses. In Day #113 – The Greatest Treasure? Knowledge I introduce the newest ‘sense,’ the interoceptive sense. This is particularly important for coaches to understand as it is about the body’s ability to regulate pain and temperature. Have a child overheating or one that over/underreacts to pain? That is the interoceptive sense not working properly. For more information, see below.
7. Be aware of triggers. Parents will be happy to tell you the things that may trigger a melt-down. For Tucker? Yelling. I know…I often worry how he will ever survive in athletics. If you yell to get his attention – it will pass. If you yell in anger – you will lose him. If he does something wrong, simply tell him. Then, show him how to do it right. Less talk, more practice.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask. Seriously. Don’t be afraid to ask – I promise we’ve heard it all, and most likely worse than what you are about to ask.
9. Don’t be afraid to give suggestions. Seriously. Don’t be afraid to offer suggestions – I promise, I don’t know it all. I am ALWAYS open to helping my child be more successful AND making your coaching life easier.
10. Try to get ‘it.’ Please. Just give it a shot – trust me, your ‘payback’ with this child? Unable to be measured. The difference you make in his life? Simply refer to Day #42 – The Trouble With Peers. You are not only his coach…you are his friend.
Please don’t take that fact lightly…