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  • Writer's pictureJustin McLennan

Slowing Down and the Importance of Communication

Last Sunday, AYSO held their annual Santa Monica 5v5 soccer tournament at Clover Park. I was fortunate enough to enter the tournament with a handful of my players and participate in the festivities. We had a wonderful day getting our team picture taken, playing in some competitive games and finishing in fourth place. After returning from a full day of being around players of all ages and parents, I decided to take some time for reflection.

I had come to realize that there were two main lessons to be learned from the day. First, I needed to slow down and live in the moment. I had let an amazing Sunday full of sunshine, coaching, and soccer fly right past me. Second, communication is one of the most important factors when it comes to educating and working with children. Even if you are an expert in your field or on the field, if you do not know how to communicate with children, you will have a very difficult time getting through to them.

The day had ended; I had returned home and was relaxing with my feet up. After the initial joy of being able to just relax, I had started to feel sad and did not understand why. At first, I thought maybe I had set my expectations for the day too high but I knew that couldn’t be the reason. Throughout the years, I had to learn the hard way, not to get caught up on my expectations. When I have set expectations in the past, I would have trouble enjoying an event unless those expectations were met exactly how I had predicted. And hey, none of us can predict the future so why try? So, I was not feeling the sadness because I had expected the day to go a certain way. Rather, I was feeling a sense of sadness because I had let time go by too fast. I had needed to be present in the moment, to truly take in the sunshine, coaching and the actual games that were going on around me. To me, I believe that the speed of time is dependent on our perception of time, which I’ll talk about at another time. But looking back on the day, I was so worried about when our next game was, when I had to check in, if I had time to go to the gym, that I had forgot to just enjoy the day.

Highlights from the tournament started to come to mind as I was reflecting on my missed moment and I just wish I had taken a few deep breaths at the tournament to clear my mind and become present. I remember having full hours throughout the day where I had no obligations. I was enjoying a beautiful Sunday in the park lying in the grass, walking around the track, watching soccer, and coaching my team. All of these activities were ideal time for me to just take a few deep breaths, live in the moment and really enjoy life. These were missed moments that I wish I could get back. However, they have reinforced to me the importance of slowing down and living in the moment.

The second lesson I learned came from fellow parents and coaches. Working with children is my passion and comes very naturally to me. I never have to think about what to do or what to say, it just happens without any thought. In my previous blog “Children: How & Why to Live a Healthy Lifestyle,” which can be found at, I focused on the impact we as role models and parents have on our children to live a healthy lifestyle. Education was one of the ways I mentioned that we can help our children to live a healthy life. Although during the tournament I realized that education is only effective if the information can be successfully communicated to the children. During the tournament I would repeatedly hear coaches and parents directing players to stand here, run over there, or pass there. They would get angry when they had to tell the player to do the same thing a few plays later. At first, I felt a bit of disgust towards these parents and coaches for getting upset at the players. Why keep yelling at the players? Then, I realized that they mean well but just do not know how to properly communicate their knowledge of the game with the players. To us parents and coaches, spreading the field may be common sense. Using proper technique may mean nothing to them because they get more power with their “toe ball,” and who doesn’t want a powerful kick? These young players haven’t learned that spreading the field opens the game up, they don’t understand that by using the proper technique to shoot means you’ll be more accurate and powerful in the end…but they shouldn’t know this either. That’s where we as parents and coaches come in as their teachers.

On Sunday, I relearned that it is important that I understand how to successfully communicate my knowledge to these children. Just because I understand why something makes sense does not mean they do. They are kids and need help learning new things. I have found that in order to effectively teach children or anyone for the matter, you need to first explain the cause and effect for such a skill. In order to fully understand what you are learning, you need to first understand why you are learning it. In practice, I shouldn’t just tell the children “Johnny angle your body this way,” or “Steve, move up…move up.” Instead, I need to show them, “Johnny angle your body this way to the line, so that when you receive the ball you take it down the line with you, “ or “Steve, move up, that way you’re more open for a pass.” Children learn so quickly, it is our privilege to help them learn to do something correctly.

Additionally, I learned that taking the time to learn the communication strategy that works best for each child and walking them through the process is more effective than trying to direct the child on how to correct their mistake. During our youth fitness training sessions, we strive to connect with each child on a personal level to improve results. For instance, some of my players learn better when the strategy is communicated through drawing on a board, while others learn better by going through the motions on the field. Understanding their effective learning style helps me to communicate to each child in a way that they truly can “hear” me.

Communication is one of the keys to education and it is important that we continue to communicate with our children in the most effective and conductive way. Next time you find yourself trying to teach a child something new, take a second to ask yourself, “do I know their learning style?” This will not only make it easier for you, but it will make it easier for the child as well, which is the goal after all.

Do you have any advice on uncovering a child’s best learning strategy?

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