A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in a workshop for coaches of youth soccer led by Buzz Lagos, head coach of the Minnesota Thunder, a professional soccer team. Coach Lagos showed us all kinds of neat games that would engage our kids while helping them learn basic skills. It was a fun experience and I learned a lot.
At the end of the evening he conducted a highly informative question and answer period, fielding questions with the same skills he showed us when demonstrating ball control. One attendee asked a key question that has across the board applications for all teachers or instructors. He asked “What skill level should we be expecting eight and ten year old soccer players to be at?” The answer surprised me, but then made perfect sense. Coach Lagos replied, “You should not even be thinking about skill levels at that age. What you want is for every child to learn the rules and enjoy the game.”
The coach’s reply demonstrated his love for the game. Buzz Lagos also showed a deep understanding that if the children do not enjoy playing, they will not apply themselves to mastering its fundamental skills. Instead of laying heavy expectations on eight and ten year old kids, let them simply have fun. Sure enough, this was how I developed my skills in baseball as a boy, and later as a young artist.
I also believe this is exactly what our children need when it comes to learning basic skills like reading and writing. If we can somehow foster a love of reading, and an enjoyment creative self-expression with words, we have done a remarkable thing. To give our children a love of learning, a love of reading, and the pleasure of self-expression through writing and art... what a wonderful gift!
I may be wrong, but I have always believed that children are filled with an innate desire to learn, to create, to explore, and to express themselves. In other words, as they begin life these are natural, innate motivations. Our role, then, is not to attempt to motivate, but rather to avoid quenching this natural desire. Here’s an example of how to kill the love of reading. Recently, my wife was at someone’s home when an argument erupted between the two children regarding what to watch on television. The father, infuriated, resolved the matter by punishing the one in the following manner: “Go upstairs and read a book.” Yikes! Reading as punishment is hardly the way to foster a love of reading!
Perhaps one day I will finish my book of exercises for training young people to become better and more interesting writers. In the meantime, take these words to heart. If your children have a passion for self-expression, whether through art, music or the written word, rejoice. Encourage. And worry about technique later. You never know where it will lead.