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4 Differences Between Teaching Kids & Teaching Adults

09/28/2015, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

“As long as people are happy and I can see the satisfaction, it doesn’t matter to me who I coach. When parents thank you for the progress their children have made, it’s the ultimate reward, but so is receiving thanks from adults who’ve experienced improvement.”

That’s George Jecminek, a tennis instructor at the North Shore Winter Club and a strong believer in lifelong physical literacy. 

Truth be told, this was intended to be a tennis article, but A) we’re navigating the hockey silly season and B) the lessons apply to both sports. Wait, swimming and fitness training fit in here too. So does snowboarding.

I’ve taught two sports to different levels and ages of athletes in my coaching career: hockey and snowboarding. While everyone wants to enjoy themselves regardless of the sport they’re practicing, the manner in which those sports are taught varies significantly based on age. 

How so? All the reasons I’m about to state!

1. Responses to Normal Procedures

Stand in the middle of a hockey rink and raise your stick in the air and blow a whistle and a group of children will flock to you like ducks on bread crumbs. Repeat this process with a group of adults new to the game and everyone’s eyebrows will go all screwy. 

The same goes with teaching a drill - kids want to get close and learn as much as they can, adults want to stay back because they’re deathly terrified of being called on to demonstrate. 

2. The Need to Understand 

Ask a snowboarding ten year-old to lean on his front foot and hop in the air to perform a nollie and you’re greeted with a thumbs up and a quick attempt. 30 or forty years later and that response turns into a quest to understand why that pressure is required on the front foot. 

Adults are cerebral, they want to understand the reasons behind learning a skill before they can convince their bodies to act. 

Honestly, children could use more of this characteristic, while adults would benefit from a little bit more willingness to try new things without understanding it inside and out. 

3. Practice vs Fun

Around six years ago I was teaching snowboarding lessons in Edmonton in the afternoons. This was after I got off the ice from work but before I had to head back to the rink for hockey practice. (I wish I could clone myself.)

Anyways, my dad would come by the hill for lessons. He was so serious, and such is the nature of snowboarding that serious doesn’t really work. You have to be loose and willing to let your body move in new uncomfortable directions. 

All kids care about is having fun, and it’s a quality we’d do well to hold on to whether we’re a 32 year-old hockey coach or a 62 year-old learning to snowboard. 

Sorry Dad, I meant 52. (He reads all of these.)

4. Trust

My dad trusted me not to fly him over a cliff during snowboard lessons, but when it comes to adult hockey classes, I think some of the adults I’ve taught believed I was leading them into a far worse scenario. 

Children trust coaches almost to a fault. They’ll listen and attempt any skill thrown their way. 

Adults? Not so much. Unless they’re already proficient. NHL hockey players will attempt anything they’re asked without hesitation. But ask a recreational hockey player not to switch from a left-handed grip to right-handed even if it is “easier to make the puck go far” and you’re a lunatic. 

That actually happened, by the way. No, not at NSWC. 

Somewhere in the middle lies the sweet spot of athletic instruction. Absorbing new ideas while seeking to understand them is the best way to learn new skills. 

And who knows, while you’re learning something about a new sport, you might just learn a little bit about yourself at the same time. 


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