Let’s Focus On the Fundamentals First

Don’t Bypass the Basics

The focus of a lot of youth sports skills coaching is flawed.

In a rush to see our kids perform “advanced” sport-specific skills, we are leaving them with a faulty foundation.

We too often attempt to fast-track our kids past the fundamentals.

But you can’t. It doesn’t work.

Let me explain what I mean.

I often come across coaches (or parents who are coaching their child) who are trying to teach an advanced technique to a youngster who has yet to master the basics and, to me, is clearly not ready to cope with the more complex movements being asked of them.

In fact, it is not uncommon to see these kids exhibiting glaring fundamental errors that are not being recognised, prioritised or addressed, and are possibly even being made worse with the attempted introduction of more complex movements.

The focus of the coaching is flawed.

Adobe Spark (16)

Examples of a Flawed Coaching Focus

Some specific track and field examples of this flawed focus include:

  • Introducing block starts to kids who haven’t yet learnt to run or accelerate efficiently.
  • Attempting to teach a complex long jump flight technique to a young athlete who can barely get off the ground.
  • Trying to teach the full rotation in the discus before a young athlete is capable of a controlled grip and a consistent discus release.
  • Introducing an extended javelin run-up to a young athlete who cannot yet control the the implement from a standing throw.

What Causes this Flawed Focus?

I can give some insight about this issue because I was guilty of it as a young coach. My limited knowledge and experience at the time certainly contributed, but I also think it stemmed from the following:

No Long Term Plan

I was coaching for short-term results rather than long-term development. I didn’t have a step-by-step long-term plan for the athletes’ technical development. There was no long-term vision.

The “Quick Fix”

I was trying to find “quick fixes” or “magical solutions” that would suddenly see a marked performance in an athlete’s improvement. I believed that this would validate my credibility as a coach.

Lack of Ideas

I didn’t have a large enough coaching repertoire to teach the basics and I quickly exhausted my ideas. In a desperate attempt to have enough session content I resorted to including skills and activities that were most likely not suitable for the group with which I was working.

Imitating the Wrong Technical Model

I was too influenced by the techniques of elite athletes. I didn’t properly understand that the development model can and should differ from the advanced technical model. I (unsuccessfully) tried to impose a full technical model on unprepared young athletes rather than spend time teaching graduated steps towards it.

I cringe to think of the time I wasted when I could have been focusing on things that would have provided much more value for the athletes in the long-term.

How to Avoid Making “Fundamental” Mistakes

To avoid making these same mistakes, I encourage all coaches and parents of young athletes to:

1. Resist searching for quick results

You can’t rush development. Coaches should coach with patience and a plan.

2. Take a “fundamentals first” approach

The biggest difference between success and failure often comes from mastering the fundamentals. Good athletes perform the fundamentals well. Good coaches focus on teaching the fundamentals.

3. Avoid looking for quick fixes or magic solutions.

There are none. Coaches and parents are always looking for “the edge” for their athletes/children. The “edge” we should be looking for is our athletes performing the basics better than anyone else.

4. Increase your coaching repertoire

Coaches need to build up an extensive collection of games, drills and activities that are designed to improve the basics. This will help to curb the urge to unnecessarily and prematurely jump to more advanced teachings.

5. Avoid trying to model a kid’s technique on an elite athlete’s technique

An elite athlete’s advanced technique is not necessarily suitable for a young athlete. Stick with activities that equate to the athlete’s stage of development. Match your activities to the kid rather than try to force the kid to match the activities.

7. Have patience

Finally, don’t let an athlete’s or your impatience for improvement or results veer you away from a long-term development philosophy.

Don’t let a flawed focus leave a kid with a faulty foundation.

Do you agree with a “fundamentals first” approach?

What do you think about this topic? Do you agree? Have you seen or experienced any of what I have mentioned? I would love to hear from you. You can add to this discussion by leaving a reply/comment or by using the contact details below.

Further reading


The Biggest Misconception About Coaching Kids

Books from Amazon:

7 Keys to Being a Great Coach by Allistair McCaw

Track & Field Books

100 Best Selling Track & Field Books

Top 100 Best Selling Children’s Sports Coaching Books

Books from Booktopia:

Sports Coaching Books

Track & Field Books

There are links on this page from which Coaching Young Athletes can earn a small commission. This adds no cost to you but helps to keep this blog sustainable. I really appreciate if you do purchase through my links. Thanks for your support. Darren

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If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

20150614_154020-1Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, Anchor or via email.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Focus On the Fundamentals First

  1. Alistair says:

    Fantastic and simple common sense information Darren. I coach youth track and field and have a Foundation and Junior Development Group and am studying Growth and Movement development as part of my Sport Coaching degree.

    Cheers Alistair


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