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This week, the phone went to Verdal'n, because if anyone's going to make it, it's got to be here. At the other end of the handset, I met the coach of boys 15, Ben Arild Engan.
Verdal G15 has grown from being 4-5 children, to becoming a team of 22 players. Many teams may refer to such numbers, but the startling thing about this story is that the team pretty much loses all of their matches. Part of the reason is that Ben Arild distributes playing time equally between everyone on the team, even in situations where they have the opportunity to win. Of course I got curious!
What steps have been made? How have they managed to create an environment without a result focus? What makes them able to keep the children? And not least recruit more?
But first, who exactly is this Ben Arild?
Ben Arild is 41 years old, married and has 3 children. He is a teacher at Levanger VGS on media and communication. He has played handball himself, and has both coaching and refereeing courses.
Ben Arild quickly weighs in on how the playing group is not keen to win, but that they focus on the team's performance. As an 11-year-old, the boys had to play against children who were a year older, and this resulted in a lot of losses. The highlight of the season came in the last league game against arch-rival Skogn, a match they lost by only two goals. Earlier in the season, they had been swept off the field and lost by 20-1 to the same team. It peaked with joyful cheers on the pitch, and the opposing coach came into the locker room and praised the team for a great effort.
Guardians, coaches and children with a strong performance focus do not belong to the rarities, which often appear clearly far down in the age groups.
Ben Arild's method
I decided to test out Ben Arild's method in practice on my son, a slightly above average result-oriented little guy. The choice fell on a first-grader's school tournament. After several losses, I experienced tears and depressed mood among many of the children because they did not bring home the long-awaited trophy.
My kid, on the other hand, was delighted! Why? Yes, because he had mastered a fine he had been practicing for a long time. A nice he did in the middle of the pitch, with no players around him.
Tired of the pressure to win
The children are tired of the pressure to win, claims Ben Arild. He finds that children are weighed and measured in pretty much every arena, which I have to support him in. His main goal has been to create an environment where children should be allowed to let go of this pressure, and he believes sports can be exactly that arena.
Ben Arild has individual player conversations with the children, where players are given specific tasks. In these conversations, he is also very keen to find out how the children really are doing.
Reactions from parents
I wasn't late to ask Ben Arild if he's experienced reactions from results-focused parents.
"I have received inquiries from parents who disagree with the philosophy and values. I think anyone who chooses to try something of the same will experience this. Being a parent coach at a club can sometimes be a lonely task where you feel you have to make a lot of important choices while being under pressure from different sides. Then it's important to believe what you're doing, and preferably have a coaching team or someone else around you who believes in the same philosophy. Ideally, you should have a club in the back that has laid a clear value basis for the activity to be run. This is something I think we are about to succeed with us."
I am interested in getting on the table solutions for how to avoid such situations. Ben Arild mentions that clear communication with the parent group has been important so that everyone is aware of and agree on the team's philosophy.
Differentiation – the hardest challenge in sport!
Finally, we discuss differentiation. Possibly the sport's most difficult challenge!?!
For differentiation versus not differentiation is plague or cholera. There are pros and cons of both solutions, but one thing me and Ben Arild completely agree with. Differentiation does NOT mean topping the layer! All children should be allowed to play the same amount – regardless of the result.
In Denmark, level training is recommended, with it meant that 25% of the training should be done with someone who is better, 50% with someone at the same level, and the last 25% with children with lower skill levels. Children should both learn, but also teach.
I'm not sitting on the face. Possibly there is no flurry, but this was a conversation I wanted to share with you along the way in my quest to get a little closer to my big hairy target.
Handball greeting from Bjarte Myrhol
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