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Deflections - Coaching the Star


On the day Prince died, CNN interviewed Jimmy Jam, an old school friend and fellow artist. In middle school, he said, they had to take a music class which consisted mostly of simple keyboard pieces. Even at that young age though, Prince was an accomplished musician. Whenever the teacher left the class, asking them to learn trivial bits like “Mary had a little lamb,” Prince and his buddy would break into rock mode and jam away until the teacher returned. Evidently, either the teacher didn’t know they were well beyond the class level, or just didn’t know how to deal with it.

As a teacher myself, I always feared having to deal with the two extremes: the student who was incapable of dealing with the curriculum or the one for whom the curriculum was an annoyance to survive until grad school.

It’s a problem minor coaches occasionally face, too. How do you deal with a player whose skills are far beyond the rest of the team? Do you have a little Crosby on your squad? I don’t mean a parent’s perception of their child. There are plenty of those misguided people. No, this would be a youngster who was perhaps misplaced or for some strange reason didn’t make a higher level team, yet is a standout.

That’s a question that often comes up in coach clinics, too. The rule of thumb was generally to try to coach/teach your team to the upper third. That way, the best kids are challenged; the middle group have to push themselves; the bottom third won’t likely reach the top third in skill this season anyway, but at least they know what they need to do over the long haul. The alternative is to teach to the middle third and leave the top third bored silly.

But when you have just one or two “superstars,” you’re almost damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Coddle the kid and you risk alienating the rest of the team under accusations of favouritism, not to mention perhaps creating even more of a monster. But ignore him at your peril.

Prodigiously talented kids usually figure out early on they’re special and that few of their future teams will be properly equipped to keep them motivated and still develop their talents. Is there an assistant coach who can spend more time with the player? Are there extra skill sessions available so that team practices, no matter how good, don’t give the impression that the star’s immense talent is being squandered.

Perhaps the most interesting interview of all would be with a former child star, like Gretzky, Lemieux or Crosby, to hear what they’d say about the subject.

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