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Andy Grant
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Children Coaching Skills

10 Benefits of Multi-skills Coaching all Coaches Should Know

Spending some time during coaching sessions on improving balance, coordination and agility can pay huge dividends when working with children and young people

Recently the Daily Telegraph published a front-page story about "physically illiterate" children. The Chairwoman of UK Sport, Baroness Sue Campbell, warned that a growing number of 11 year olds in the UK can’t catch, throw, jump or run – the fundamental basic movements of every sport.

If ever there was a call to arms for multi-skills coaching, this is it. With the Olympic Legacy still in our minds it is now time for all coaches to integrate some multi-skills into their sessions.

Spending just 10-15mins of your session focusing on balance, coordination and/or agility that may not appear to be specific to your sport can have terrific benefits for those attending your session.

The benefits of multi-skills coaching have been advocated by some high-profile sporting personalities.  

At young ages we should be talking about athleticism. If you want to be a great cricketer, a great footballer, a great hockey or tennis player you actually have to have the skills of a track and field athlete. You have to be able to run all day, have to be able to sprint, have hand-eye coordination. If you can throw a cricket ball it is actually the same dynamics as throwing a javelin. We have to encourage youngsters to think about athletics as a way of moving into other sports.

Lord Coe, Interview on Talk Sport

You can’t be a good footballer and average at everything else. Running, jumping, throwing, catching and general skills that you put little thought into all add up when you take to the field. Coordination and balance are vital tools to possess in most sports and these skills should, sometimes unknowingly, be ingrained into us at an early age.

Michael Owen, former England International

If you're still not convinced about the benefits of investing time during your coaching sessions in multi-skills activities, then here is a quick summary of the benefits. 

1. Increases long-term participation in sport

Making children aware of the many different physical requirements of playing sports and physical activity may lead them to take responsibility for their own physical development and preparation as they get older.

2. Transfers abilities to other sports 

Physical skills, decision-making ability and other positive attributes can be developed through multi-skills coaching and can be used if, or when, children transfer to another sport.

Research into Sport-specific Practice and the Development of Expert Decision-making in Team Ball Sports by Baker, Cote and Abernethy (2003) found a positive relationship between players achieving expert performance in their main sport and the amount of time they had spent playing a variety of other sports.

In his blog Brian McCormick, the author of Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development referenced this research and concluded that rather than specialising at earlier ages, these players need more time playing a variety of sports to increase their exposure to, and implicit learning of, the basic tactical skills that are similar in many sports.

Many young children don’t know what sport they like best or what they want to do. Providing young children with a solid foundation in movement skills will help them transfer their abilities to other sports in the future.

3. Improves sporting performance

Improved fundamentals of movement such as running mechanics, quicker direction changes and a more stable base will improve performance in almost any sport in the long-run.

Multi-skills sessions can develop flexibility, core stability, strength, stamina, power and speed and  provide all-round physical conditioning.

The biographies of many elite performers identify a multi-skill background (often through combination of informal and structured play).

4. Creates a healthier nation

Multi-skills coaching can play a role in ensuring that the health agenda is being met. Different sports need different levels of physical exertion. Using a multi-skill activity for part of your session will ensure heartbeats and breathing rates are elevated, resulting in a fitter and healthier group of participants.

5. Develops valuable life skills

Problem-solving, communication, team working and working independently are highly valued attributes in sport and life in general. Playing one sport will allow some of these skills to be developed. Including multi-skills activities in your sessions will increase the likelihood of all participants developing more of these skills.  

6. Injury prevention

Multi-skills sessions can reduce the risk of injuries such as repetitive strains and an imbalance in muscular development.

In his blog Play only one sport? Prepare to be injured Joseph Zuckerman (Professor and Chair of Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at NYU) highlighted that the trend for focusing on one sport all year round is one of the reasons for an increase in athletic injuries over last 20 years. Playing one sport takes its toll on the specific body parts involved. 

Also, check out the International Sport for Life Society for research on how Physical Literacy can help injury prevention.

7. Improves academic performance

A review of 50 studies that examined the effect of school-based physical activity on academic performance conducted by the Division of Adolescent and School Health (part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) in the USA found varied physical activity can improve attention span and concentration, classroom behaviour and achievement test scores.

8. Inclusion: Everyone can be involved

By incorporating multi-skills activities coaches can ensure that there is an opportunity for the less-dominant players to achieve success. In particular, many balance and coordination activities don’t have external interference such as racing an opponent or being tackled and can allow a youngster time to develop their movement skills.

Multi-skills coaches think about adapting their activities to ensure all participants are included. Using the STEP model of adjusting Space, Task, Equipment and/or People, the multi-skills coach can provide an inclusive coaching session by making activities easier or harder.

9. Re-engages people no longer playing sport

StreetGames (the charity funded to establish Doorstep Sport Clubs in disadvantaged communities) believes that a multi sports approach can re-engage the 16-25 year old age group that have dropped out of sport. They recognise the multiple benefits of running multi-sport sessions. These benefits include offering more variety, introducing new sports, more fun and less boredom thereby attracting and retaining more participants and making it easier for coaches to integrate mixed age groups, mixed ability and fitness levels and male and female participants into the same session.

Head of Training Academy at StreetGames, Justyn Price, delivers the 1st4sport Level 2 Award in Multi-skills Development in Sport as training for StreetGames coaches. He believes that a strong understanding and coaching ability of multi-skills is vital for coaches at the Doorstep Sport Clubs.

10. Develops the whole person

Remember that you coach children, not just your sport. Use a multi-skills approach to truly develop multiple skills. Develop social and lifestyle skills as well as physical and sport specific. Multi-skills coaching develops competence, confidence, connection, creativity, character and caring. A multi-skilled athlete should be a multiple-skilled person.

Want to improve your multi-skills coaching?

By attending our practical workshop 'How to Caoch the Fundamentals of Movement', you will learn how to nurture physically confident children and adults – key to a healthy and active lifestyle.

Find out more

Related Content

If you enjoyed this article, then Andy has also written for ConnectedCoaches - UK Coaching's free online community for coaches of all sports and activities:

Andy was also interviewed for the article ‘The importance of Multi-skills coaching for budding sports enthusiasts’.

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Andy Grant