coaching in sport (any ideas?)

My son is 11 and has a diagnosis of high functioning ASD,  he currently does archery, my Husband and I shoot as well.   when he is doing well he is fine and last week after not letting him do any competitions for a while we let him do one.    He did amazingly well and shot with a grown up who was amazing with him and he really clicked with,  we shot at the same time so he didnt have a lot to do with us

roll on today he shot the morning session we were watching not shooting and he was a total mess,  as soon as he got a bad shot he turns round and looks at us and asks what he did wrong , which is a no no in archery,  then after he shot he gets louder asking what he has done wrong and crying,  on the line at one point he was stamping,  if we try to give advice he takes it so personally as if we think he is the worst person in the world.   It got to the point that we deemed he was maybe putting people off even though they never said and were trying to be encouraging with him.

He wont give the sport up as we go and he still comes and his brother gave up and he refuses to be the same as his brother.    He expects to do well every week but archery is an up and down sport and very technical and trying to get this trough to him is really hard.  we tell him to relax and not worry about his score,  we explain all the things he should be doing without being critical but it becomes quite stressfull at times.   

my question is has anyone ever coached autistic children and how did you deal with the negativity.   He loves the sport when he is doing well and we really want to help him continue without the stress as any talk about quitting is sometimes even more stressfull.


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  • I'm a rugby coach who's coached players with a range of developmental disorders alongside NTs, at different times coaching ages from six to adults. I have a BSc in Sports Coaching (including a range of units in sport psychology), UKCC Level 2 in Rugby Coaching (micros/juniors, youth, seniors) and a number of other sport/coaching/instructing qualifications. I'm also the father of an 18-year-old with Aspergers/ADHD/dyspraxia who played rugby for many years, until it got "too serious". He wanted to do other sports but was turned down as "not a good fit", "not a team player" etc, so decided to give rugby a go after all. (I never coached him as I don't believe parents should coach their own children in team sports.)

    My approach to dealing with negativity is to simply soak it up–hand the session over to an assistant coach, move away from the other players or have them move away (as suits), and just let the player having a meltdown have their meltdown until they're back to something approaching an even keel. Then I try to find out what triggered it, get the player to offer some solutions, make some suggestions of my own and encourage them to have another go. If they don't want to, fine. If they do, brilliant.Then we treat the next occasion as a fresh start but with a couple of solutions in place to see if they reduce the stressors/triggers that lead to negativity.

    Finding the trigger is vital: sometimes it's something you can remove or tone down (player banter can be one–not negative/discriminatory, but just "annoying social stuff that sends me mental!" as one lad said), other times it's things where you have to help them build up tolerance. My son would get more and more excited as a game went on to the point where'd he just jump up and down flapping his arms before running amok in the changing rooms after the game. The solution was to sub him at half time and give him space to calm down and change before everyone else. Reduce the stress or help the athlete cope with stressors, and you're well on the way to minimising negative situations.

    One thing I would say is never say "relax", "calm down" etc. It's counter productive and invariably makes things worse. I prefer to say, "let it out, it's no problem for me, when it's all gone then we can chat if you want". And then I let the full force of it wash over me. It's not easy at times, but it helps to remind myself that it's not personal (most of the time!). Obviously, it's more difficult as the parent, as I know all too well.

    But before things get negative, there's a lot of other things that can be done. Think about sensory issues, the social stresses involved in socialising/working as a team (even one-to-one coaching is team working), miscommunication if the athlete is very literal in their interpretation of verbal instructions, physical stressors such as body contact, and coordination/fine and gross motor skills. My son gets frustrated and can meltdown when his body won't do what he wants, but learned to ride a bicycle after five years effort. Again, it's about minimising stressors and/or helping the athlete learn to tolerate them/manage their response.Abstracts such as tactics/strategy, offence/defence/counterattack etc can be an issue for some, where others will excel in their command of them but be unable to work out why others can't see the perfect solution they can. Embrace quirks–as I remind my players all great rugby players have their superstitions and myths so if a player wants to wear particular colour laces or underwear or odd socks or have interesting hair or tape a particular limb in a particular way or follow a particular changing ritual, then go for provided it's within the laws of rugby (or the rules/codes of other sports).

    It can be quite funny watching a big chunk of a team following their own individual rituals in their own bubbles within an otherwise bustling changing room: he puts his socks on first and has to wear his lucky base layer (holed and unwashed but soaked in Lynx), he spends ages in his underwear in a corner with his headphones on looking at his kit set out "just so" until he decides what to put on first today, he likes his shoulders strapped because it helps him focus away from distractions, and so on. The woman assistant coach I had last year told me the same went on with the U18 girls in their changing rooms–she'd been a bit startled by the number of "odd bods" in the team but quickly grew accustomed to the team's peculiar ways of accommodating everybody.

    Finally, look for the right sort of coach/instructor. You're looking for someone who is patient with an accepting and learning attitude, plus a clear set of rules and parameters that they can communicate effectively. That doesn't mean they're "tough"–it means they provide a strong sense of structure in what can feel like a very chaotic and stressful environment. The coach needs to be the calm spot in the storm.

    I'd like to think I've done a reasonable job of it as all my teams, male or female, school or club, have at least tripled their numbers and up to a quarter of the squad (especially in school teams) have not been NTs. And my most challenging player went from being sent off every game (monster meltdowns) to successfully captaining the U18 team and continues to play rugby at uni.