Paudie Butler is a guy that I idolise when it comes to coaching children in any sport. He is one of these people that after you listen to him speak, you are inspired and enthused to coach children. He has a love of coaching and an obsession for instilling the love of sport in children.
He once quipped that;
“Supporters watch the ball, however, excellent coaches watch the player”.
Even though he said this years ago, I still think about it often.
What does he mean?
Paudie means that if you are spectating, you are watching the ball. You react to where the ball goes and decide if it is good or bad. For example, if someone takes a shot at the goal, your eyes follow the ball and if it goes into the goal, it’s good and if it goes wide, it’s bad. If a coach follows this approach of only watching the ball, he is getting very little feedback on what to work on at future training.
If you are an excellent coach, however, you are watching the player. You are watching how they execute the skills of the game. You are observing their movement. You are looking closely to see how they position themselves. If a player uses a poor technique and the ball coincidentally goes into the goal, the coach notes the poor technique and may focus on that in future coaching sessions. Equally, if a player takes a shot with perfect technique and the ball goes wide, the coach will be satisfied that the player is executing the skill the right way and will be confident that positive results aren’t far away.
I was thinking about this idea lately and I thought how this principle applies to children who are acting out also.
Onlookers watch the behaviour, excellent teachers watch the child.
What do I mean?
If an onlooker comes across a child who is acting out, they will simply see the behaviour. They observe the child screaming. They look at them running away. They see them being aggressive. If the behaviour is all they are watching, this is all they can react to. They might react by getting angry, by judging the child or by walking away.
Excellent teachers, however, watch the child closely when they come across them acting out. They are deciphering why they are behaving this way. What is the child trying to communicate? Is there an unmet need? What is going on in the child’s surrounding environment? They ask these questions to identify how to react to the full context and underlying cause of the behaviour. They know there are seven common triggers for meltdowns and each one will beget a different response.
The teacher who only watches the behaviour will respond to every child the same way. If a child is shouting out of turn in the class, the teacher may reprimand, ignore or punish every child.
A teacher who watches the child may react this way too. They may also react, however, by striving to give that child more positive attention for the rest of the day because they are aware that the child has a new baby brother and is seeking additional attention to compensate for the lack at home. Or perhaps, they might assign them a different task because they realise the one they have in front of them is too difficult.
Depending on the context and underlying cause, the adult who watches the child will react differently to each situation. This is the correct way to respond: with curiosity as opposed to instant judgement.
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