Who has a harder time on the playground—the player nobody chooses for a team, the athletic boy who’s so aggressive no one wants to play with him or the child who would like to play but doesn’t have the skills? Answer: They all struggle for acceptance.
Grades may be the ticket to a profession, but for many kids, participation in sports is the currency that buys social status. It’s not just the promising athlete hoping for a scholarship who wants to up his game. The court and the field are where friendships are made and self-confidence is developed—or crushed.
Mike Dube has been coaching and mentoring children playing sports for many years. An accomplished athlete himself, he left the business world to follow his passion for sports by starting DubeZone, an after school coaching program. Requests for private sessions kept increasing, and he saw that boys needed more than training in how to dribble and bat.
“My goal is to teach life skills as well as sports skills, to build up self-esteem and confidence,” Dube said. “Every parent wants their kid to be a mensch. We want to build strong bodies and strong character.”
Mike worked with his wife, Rachel, a business consultant, to develop a structured system that improves both sports and life skills. The Elite Method (http://theelitemethod.com/) is the result of extensive research and input from consulting physical and occupational therapists and psychologists. Each child will have an intensive evaluation to determine strengths and weaknesses, and will follow a program with quantifiable, trackable goals that will be communicated to parents with progress reports. A family in the program will commit to a series of 10 sessions to start.
“We want every kid to feel good in his own skin, his own body,” said Rachel Dube. “They don’t have to be amazing athletes. We want them to feel confident in themselves so they can join friends and have play dates. They should feel good about themselves and understand what’s appropriate and what’s not.”
The Elite Method program is attracting both boys and girls. “Girls also need to feel good and confident about their bodies and their skills,” Rachel said. “Our coaches give them positive reinforcement and an opportunity to express their concerns and feelings in a safe and non- judgmental space.”
For some children, the goal is to learn the skills and the rules they somehow missed. Josh* was petrified to go to sleepaway camp as he didn’t know how to play any team sports. After working with an Elite Method coach, he developed a real love of basketball and soccer, and had a great time at camp. “He even walks with more confidence now,” his mother said. “He’s a different child.”
At four years old, Andrew* started gaining weight, enough so his mother and pediatrician were concerned. They thought he should have more physical activity but he had no interest in after school sports. At the recommendation of a friend, Andrew’s mother investigated Elite Method and decided to enroll. “The first day the coach arrived, I knew I had made the right decision,” she explained in an email. “He came with a duffle bag full of “tricks” and my son was excited to see what was in it and how they would use all the different things. I have never seen my son sweat from working so hard but also having so much fun. This program was worth all the money in the world, simply because it has allowed him to figure out what he likes to do to be physical and it doesn’t need to be about being the best, but it needs to be about HIS best.”
Some children are good athletes but have to work on impulse control or learn how not to have a temper tantrum when the game doesn’t go their way. Jared* tried to take control of any game he was in, which made the other boys unhappy. His mother shared that while he thought he knew what he was doing, he was not an outstanding athlete. Elite Method coaches taught him the sports skills to make him a better player, and the sportsmanship skills to make him a better teammate.
Dr. Marla Baum is a neuropsychologist and a consultant with Elite Method. “There’s a whole body of research that shows how physical prowess can fuel a kid’s self-esteem,” she said. “Elite Method has built a very unique, fun, child centered way to build physical capabilities.” Dr. Baum helps to assess if there is an area of functioning that is holding a child back, like self- regulation, the ability to transition between activities, or perceptual skills like how far to throw a ball.
Dr. Allison Mell, physical therapist and Maryanne Deutsch, occupational therapist, work together in their practice “Tots on Target” and collaborate with Elite Method coaches, who come to them for guidance on how best to accomplish their goals with clients. Dr. Mell and Dr. Deutsch structure lesson plans for the coaches and create templates of progression on skills sets like ball skills, self-regulation and hand-eye coordination.
“We want them to look for targeted progression—where the kids are starting and where they should get to, like kicking a ball farther as the sessions go on,” said Dr. Mell.
Dr. Deutsch advised a coach whose client was having trouble hitting a baseball due to weak hand/eye coordination to work with a larger diameter ball first and then scale down. “Modifying where kids are starting from helps them feel successful,” she said. “They can improve from there to more challenges.”
The sessions build in activities to model good behavior and throw in deliberate obstacles to teach decision making.
“Every activity is an opportunity to challenge the kids without them realizing it,” said Rachel.
To teach impulse control, the coach may ask the student to hold the balls while he sets up, and monitor if the child starts bouncing them. When a student has a hard time accepting criticism, the coach can say “we can do better” or “let’s talk about that.” Some sessions use client “crossover,” bringing together one coach and client with another coach and client. “A coach can observe his client one on one but by observing him with another child he can see in real time how they interact.”
Goal and progress reports are very specific about both sports skills and behavior. “Our long-term goals for clients include dribbling a basketball without looking at the ball, consistently delivering accurate passes to teammates and increasing his catching rate... Help client build his self-confidence and give him the skills to deal with conflict in a more positive and non-aggressive way,” said one such report.
Elite Method brings a sense of relief to parents who know their child is in good hands, and will now be on a much better path for future success. Rachel and Mike Dube are happy to be the leaders who figured out how to resolve this underserved area of child development.
“We had an idea, we got a lot of professional help and we brought it to fruition,” Mike said. “We’re very proud of the product Elite Method has become.”
*Names changed to protect privacy.
By Bracha Schwartz