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We need to move from adult-instructed to child-initiated sports

adult-instructed blog montessori montessori sports sports approach traditional sports Nov 23, 2020

We all know it. A screaming coach on the sideline, and many children sitting on the bench. These examples are common in sports, but not in the interest of children. We believe that we can do better and should change the traditional, adult-instructed approach to sports.

When our founder Ruben Jongkind was working as a coach at the football (soccer) academy of AFC Ajax in Amsterdam, he noticed that there were two groups of coaches in the organization. One group was very much focused on the performance of the team on matchday. They actively instructed their players and interfered if something went wrong in their eyes. The other, much smaller group was more interested in the individual development of the children. These coaches mainly observed and created training sessions to help the children to develop their strengths based on their interest.

The longer Ruben worked at Ajax, the more he noticed that these two different approaches to coaching had severe consequences for the club and the children. In this blog article we show you some aspects of the adult-instructed approach to sports and how we as Montessori Sports offer a different perspective.


Instruction, intervention and interference 

Coaches who follow the traditional sports approach tend to give a lot of instructions prior to an activity. In the first plane demonstration is the best approach. Verbal instruction should be limited to the use of particular language (for example using the three-period lesson). In the second and third plane instruction is an important tool in the prepared environment, especially to clarify the limits in the activity. However, too much instruction takes away the flow of the activity, since children want to stay active. In traditional sports, coaches usually give way too much instruction, taking away the initiative and creativity of children to find their own solutions.

Intervention, helping the child to correct or prevent mistakes, is a tool that should be used sporadically. Give the child the time and space to discover and to let his internal teacher help him. As a coach you should observe, make a hypothesis, and only then intervene. After the intervention it is important to reflect on what happens.

Interference is a tool that is commonly used in traditional sports, but we do not do it in Montessori Sports. Interference is more invasive than intervention and is defined as involvement in the activities of children when the involvement is not wanted. It impedes children to develop and can cause trauma, especially in very young children.

We encourage preparation and observation as the main coaching tools. Next to this, involving children in the preparation of the environment and the observation of the activity can aid them in their self-construction. It helps to develop self-regulation, reflection, willpower, memory, and leadership. Especially in the second and third plane, from the perspective of Cosmic Education, the needs of children connect very well with preparing the sports environment and leading sports activities.  

By making these adjustments to the coaching style, you will notice that the children have more fun in their sport. After all, a happy child is what it is all about.



That traditional sports coaches generally instruct and interfere a lot is understandable. All they want is for their team or individual athlete to get a good result during the competition, and they think that instructing and interfering is necessary to achieve this. Additionally, these coaches often let the players who have better performance in that moment play and the weaker players sit on the bench.

This makes sense from the coach’s side. If a coach performs with his team or athlete, he will get noticed by others. This increases his chances to get a promotion, and thus a higher salary.

But if you work with children it is not about the career opportunities of the coach. It is about the individual development and happiness of the child, and that will not be achieved if he is not playing or feeling undervalued.


These aspects of the adult-instructed approach to sports are just a few examples of why we as Montessori Sports want to see the current approach to sports differently. In our Fundamentals course we elaborate much further on this topic and we show you what a productive role of the adult is in the Montessori Sports environment. We all want the best for our children, and that is why we need to move from adult-instructed to child-initiated sports.

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