For the first time, we ran a 4-day “Sports IQ Camp” over Winter Break, and a dozen incredible kids participated! The initial idea was to teach them how to be smarter about playing team invasion sports (soccer, basketball, lacrosse, etc), by focusing on the aspects of invasion games that transfer easily from sport to sport. But it turned out very differently than we envisioned, as it didn’t take long to realize: kids on Winter Break don’t want to run drills, think through chalktalks, or focus on learning. They just want to play! And who can really blame them?? So we adjusted on the fly, had a blast, and learned maybe some even more important lessons...
First of all, what is this notion of “sports IQ”? There is no formal definition, but conventional wisdom puts it along the lines of: knowing where to be and when, knowing what’s going to happen before it happens, and most importantly knowing what to do about it to gain advantage.
MPower’s Sports IQ idea: high sports IQ is often cited by coaches and athletes as a primary benefit of playing multiple sports. But it is mostly described in past tense, as in: “this player had a great understanding of passing lanes in hockey because he also played soccer.” That means it just happens, and then we look back and talk about it. So our question was: instead of letting the benefits just happen, is sports IQ something we can teach and make happen? Here’s how we approached it, and we asked two other questions as our guide:
What aspects of sports can transfer easily from sport to sport? For example: the simple but effective give-and-go is the same in basketball as it is in soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and a multitude of other sports. If we can teach kids how to recognize opportunities for ‘plays’ like this, it can help them in all of their sports. Other similar (but broader) topics we thought about: finding/ using/ creating space, playing defense, playing angles, supporting the ball carrier, knowing your passing/ shooting/ carrying options before you ever touch the ball, etc.
How do we teach the “I” in IQ? That is: “Intelligence”. We made a conscious effort to avoid addressing skills, technique, agility, mechanics, etc. since those are typically what kids learn with their regular coaches in whatever sports they play. Instead, our camp was to focus on situational recognition and decision-making in sports.
What happened: So of course, all of the learning activities, discussion points, and lessons went OUT THE WINDOW within the first 30 minutes of the first day. Kids just want to play. I have been coaching at many levels for a long time, and THIS is the mistake I made?... Forgetting that kids just want to play?? Shame shame.
So I scrambled, we played, we laughed, we argued, we smiled, we cried, and we learned. And as is often the case in coaching: they taught me more than I could have ever taught them.
What the kids learned:
The kids learned about all the things that I had set out to teach in the first place. But they forced me to get really creative about it because I had to replace lessons, activities, and chalktalk with FUN, competitive games that I found/ devised. (We even had a day where I led them through creating/ playing their own game and rules from scratch).
But by far the biggest lesson they learned was about sportsmanship, and being a good competitor and teammate. It shouldn’t be a surprise (but of course it was!) that the kinds of kids who would sign up for a Sports IQ camp in the first place would tend to be very competitive. So of course there were tons of arguments about: who scored, who didn’t, did she go out of bounds, he elbowed, she pushed, etc. So on the last day, I brought some prizes and told the kids I would award points for good sportsmanship. The kids with the most points at the end of the day would get the prizes. We played a few different games that day, but the real game was sportsmanship, and boy were they competitive! The magic was that the day started out to be about winning points, but it didn’t take long for it to truly become about being good teammates, good competitors, and good people. Kids are amazing (and so is my wife for coming to the rescue with this awesome idea)!!
What I learned:
Kids focus and learn when they play games that are new to them. With games that are familiar, they focus on physical performance and execution. But with new games (or even old games with new/ fabricated rules) they focus on learning strategies, on trying to break the code for success within the new parameters. Mind blown.
Kids are remarkably creative and inventive with just a few hints to point them in the right direction.
Kids in sports learn by doing. Replace lecture > demo > drill, with do > tweak > do > tweak… Challenge them with what, and let them figure out how. Get them moving, and let them figure out the details, strategy, and execution. Then nudge here and there along the way if needed. That’s where the decision-making and situational awareness is learned, not with rote technical drills (which are still necessary, don’t get me wrong!).
Kids (and adults) need to be allowed to fail sometimes in order to learn the really big lessons. The magic of that last day never would have happened if we hadn’t first experienced the arguing and bickering of the previous days. And what safer environment for kids to fail and learn than in youth sports? No one was denied college admission because of their failure in that gym. No one got hurt, lost their job, went to jail, lost a loved one, went homeless or anything else of true consequence. We failed, we learned, and we finished strong.
Ultimately, I still believe wholeheartedly that teaching sports IQ can feed multi-sport success in kids and vice versa. But camps like this one are probably not the best approach. My hypothesis now is that the best way might be through educating coaches. If coaches can learn how to advocate for these kinds of multi-sport concepts with kids in their specific sport, can kids learn faster and better? Most importantly, I wonder if development of sports IQ helps keep more kids in sports longer, by shifting some focus away from only execution of physical skills (where not all kids excel... yet)?
When/ how do I test this hypothesis? We’ll see...
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