"Special Needs" players?

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"Special Needs" players?

Postby SkylineCoach » Thu Feb 11, 2010 10:24 am

Anyone have experience with coaching / accommodating kids with learning differences? Processing speed, short-term memory, autism-spectrum disorders?

We have a kid, super enthusiastic & very strong. Incredibly smart - but 100% literal in his understanding of anything a coach says. He needs to know in advance what's going to happen next, which is impossible in sports. When things don't go as planned, or when the coach says something which turns out to be vague or open to a different interpretation by the player, he starts a debate with the coach.

Last year, he played 13B2 and we had 3 fathers coaching that team. One of them was always available to reinforce, repeat, and manage this player. This year, he's older and playing 15B1. We only have 1 full-time coach on that team (and HS upperclassmen as assistants), and this player is taking up most of the coach's time. We don't have the resources to hire an assistant coach for one kid, and the parents are resistant to it, as they don't want him to feel singled out. But I've got a coach and 20 other players who aren't able to be efficient with their time...

Any thoughts would be appreciated, especially from coaches or clubs who've been here before. Thanks
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Re: "Special Needs" players?

Postby Billax » Thu Feb 11, 2010 11:39 am

Coach,
As I'm sure you know, this issue has consequences not just for the player, but for the satisfaction of the entire team and its coach. I have no experience with kids having this need, but you might think about a position for this player that would allow you to utilize his strengths at times and in places having a narrower and more predictable set of decisions. Positions like FOGO and LSM on FOs have a big impact on game outcomes, while having a less open-ended set of situations and decisions.

You're to be commended for being so conscientious in finding an answer to this issue. Hope it all works out!
Sports don't build character, they reveal it. - Heywood Broun
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Re: "Special Needs" players?

Postby GoaliemonSr » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:29 pm

Coach. I actually do have quite a bit of experience with this type of situation. Unfortunately it's all in football. Having coached youth football for 9 years, I typically have 1 or 2 of these players on the team. To echo the suggestion from Billax, I've always managed to narrow the focus for these players. In football it generally means Defensive Tackle. Watch the ball. When it moves go forward and chase the guy with the football until he's on the ground. When he's got that part figured out, add in a rip move and tell him to do it every time. That may not translate well to Lacrosse, but I can tell you these guys tend to be more "reliable" than the hot-doggers. They rarely jump off-sides. I can also tell you I've gotten more satisfaction, and more overt expressions of gratitude from these players and their parents than from any others. If you can manage it, it makes it all worth while.

About 5 years ago, in my own small way, I assisted on my son's lacrosse team. I know next to nothing about the game, but the coach needed some help with faceoffs. It was a small contribution, but the coach turned it over to me and didn't need to worry about it. Perhaps you can find a willing parent to take on that simple task and plug this kid into that role. When the whistle blows, push the other kid out of the way and pick up the ball, pass it and run like heck to the orange cone.
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Re: "Special Needs" players?

Postby SkylineCoach » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:47 pm

Those are great suggestions, thank you both. I hadn't considered FOGO - I suspect he may indeed have that kind of skill. He's played close defense, but (just like a defensive tackle) only has eyes for the ball. He's quite effective at taking it away, but if anyone finds his open man with a pass, its like playing man-down all the time. LSM might work, especially in transition rather than settled. But I like the FOGO suggestion a lot.

Thanks!
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Re: "Special Needs" players?

Postby picknroll » Thu Feb 11, 2010 6:43 pm

Not sure if my input will add to the discussion, but will reinforce some of the earlier points.

Way back in my football playing days in HS, we also had a special needs kid on our team. He was very fast and athletic, but the complexity of football, either offensively or defensively, was too much for him to handle. Our coach found a spot for this guy on the kickoff team. He became our "wedge breaker" coming straight down the field on kickoffs to the ball carrier. This turned out to be a stroke of genius from our coach as this guy had oustanding speed and came in rested for every kickoff. He would fly down the middle of the field sometimes 5 or 10 yards ahead of the rest of the kickoff team. If he did not make the tackle he usually disrupted the return team enough for them to get a poor return. This special needs kid won high admiration not only from his teammates, but also from the opponents. The lightning bolt guy flying down the field on every kickoff was hard to miss and was often intimidating to the opponent! His contribution to the team was high as we always held the opponent to poor field position on kickoff. Practices were sometimes a challenge, but the coach seemed to figure out how to work him into roles like scout team defense for offensive practice where his mistakes were not disruptive.

I would echo the earlier advice of finding an area of specialization for this kid and get him focused on learning to do one thing well. As the others have said you could get big rewards both for this player and your team.
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