Meet: Juan Gonzalez Mendia BA, MSc, PGCE, Ph.D. Student
Playing experience: Argentina Schools at U16 and U18,
Coaching Qualifications: RFU Level 3 UKCC and World Rugby Level 3
Founded: Sudamerica Coaching
Can you give us a bit of background information on yourself?
I was born in Argentina where my love for sport manifested itself at a very young age. Throughout my childhood, I was fortunate enough to engage in a variety of different sports including hockey, swimming, horse riding, golf, and cricket. However, I prioritized and specialized in rugby union during the latter stages of my education. Prioritizing rugby union led to me representing Argentina Schools at U16 and U18 age groups. Furthermore, at University, I was awarded a scholarship as a student-athlete to complete my BA in Sports Sciences followed by an MSc in Sport Coaching at the University of Idaho and the University of California, Los Angeles. Upon completing my university education abroad, I returned to my home country and worked in two of Argentina’s top Independent International Schools. I was a Head of Sport by the age of 24 (I was petrified!) and that same year, I founded a sports infrastructure consulting company which I later sold in order to move to my next post. I traveled to New Zealand, having secured a job with a Province Rugby Union which combined working with one of the top rugby playing schools in the country. Since arriving in the United Kingdom, I have worked as a school master and Director of Sport at three independent schools and completed a Post Graduate Certificate in Education.
At age the age of 34, I have returned to studying and I am currently a Ph.D. Student. I am an RFU Level 3 UKCC and World Rugby Level 3 qualified coach who has coached rugby and various other sports at every possible level, from grassroots to international standards. I have worked for two Premiership Rugby Clubs and various governing bodies in a range of countries. Consequently, and in Ben Ryan’s (former Fiji Sevens National Coach and Olympic Champion) words, ‘I consider myself a learning sponge’.
My coaching career has recently turned towards professional and coach development. After several years of informally mentoring colleagues along with their coaching pathways, I have decided to capitalize on my experience and have founded Sudamerica Coaching to provide education, development and mentoring for coaches. My passion is to work alongside enthusiastic practitioners, in every possible setting, in order to influence children’s (and adults’) development by improving their experience of sport and the environments in which they are learning.
How would you define a parent(s) role within the youth sports? & What advice would you give coaches regarding youth sports parents?
I see the role of a parent as the most crucial ‘piece of the jigsaw’ by a long margin. We are genetically, biologically and physiologically programmed to respond to our parents. From a very young age, we connect with our parents by looking directly into their eyes and matching their blinking patterns and they are our first point of call when upset or unhappy. Our entire environment is determined, protected and fashioned by our parents and the list goes on and on. So why is it that most times, when I visit a sporting organization, I hear from crucial stakeholders declarations like: ‘Oh, you have not met some of our parents’, ‘I’ll introduce you to some of our lot (parents)’, ‘The further away the parents can stand during matches, the better for everyone’. Consequently, in the majority of the organizations I work with, a constant pattern is to remove parents from their child’s sporting journey. The feeling is that they ‘get in the way’ or ‘they don’t understand what is it that the coaches are trying to do’. Silent mornings, extensive behavior manuals, lengthy contracts have one thing in common: they are imposing an expected behavior rather than molding.
My challenge to all of those practitioners: educate your parents, bring them into the process and do not remove the key influencing factor in a child’s life. How? Simple, open up, invite them in for a coffee, beer, meal and find a reason and forum to engage. Introduce yourself, sell your philosophy and explain what kind of culture you are trying to forge and finally, ask for feedback. Once they have got the necessary information and opportunity to express their views, agree on a way forward which is in the best interest of the youngsters. If your philosophy is to give equal opportunities for development for all the children, then everyone knows that when you are in the extremely important U7 Cup Semi-Final, everyone will still play. If a team is ‘short’ of players, we as a team will offer to even up the contest by providing them with some of our teammates. Furthermore, we would never criticize or be rude to an official as we believe everyone makes mistakes and we embrace errors as learning opportunities. Whatever the situation, everyone has agreed on how to manage it. And here is where we should not be naive, there will be times when individuals will lose sight of the empiric contract and at those times, we refer back to it or even better, someone else in the crowd does! Moreover, invite your parents to fulfill a role within your team that will impact their son or daughter’s sporting journey. That can be anything at all, from helping out with some aspects of coaching, to cooking sausages or to being the team manager.
What are the benefits of being positive youth sports parents? & In your experience as a coach, how do negative approaches from the parents, affect the player(s) short & long term?
According to a number of studies including the Changing the Game Project research by John O’Sullivan, the Shaping the Game project led by Dr M Wilson and PhD student G Thomas from the Exeter University, in partnership with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Dr D Gould’s work from Michigan State University, an increasingly worrying percentage of children are abandoning sport and, in some cases any physical activity at all, at a very young age. Pressure from parents and coaches is a contributory factor in most cases. Therefore, let us reduce it by educating parents, coaches, volunteers and, spectators. Policy makers play a crucial role in the education process.
Positive involvement in sport from the outset prepares the athlete’s intrinsic motivators for a fun and enjoyable learning experience. The opposite forges a ‘set-to-fail’ mindset where resentment, bitterness and, irritation grow with each practice session or game.
If a child is positioned by his or her coaches at the centre of all processes, where effective communication with a clear message of trust prevails, purpose driving activities are presented and having fun is the main reason for everyone to be there, it is crucial for the message to be supported and adopted by the parents. I have often observed that if a parent comments ‘the ref is always right’, their son or daughter will nod in affirmation and carry on with the game. If however, when the parents have gathered in the clubhouse, everyone is criticising the referee’s performance then what kind of message is that? Parents are undermining their original position. We should lead by example, a cliché, I know, but effective.
Sporting experiences create life-long memories however we, as the adults, determine what kind of memories these are.
What advice would you give any youth sports participator that has the ambition, drive and commitment to reach the highest level?
- Advice to the player
Develop as a person and then as an athlete. Your sport is what you do, not who you are. Be prepared to sacrifice experiences, in the end, it will all be worthwhile. However, if your reality does not align with your plan, and it rarely does, then have options. Enjoy every minute of your adventure as it is about the journey and not the destination.
- Advice to the parents
Firstly, let common sense prevail. Developing your son or daughter’s fundamental values is your responsibility as a parent, I have always believed this. Forge open, sincere channels of communication by sitting down with your child and agreeing, plans for short and long-term targets. Celebrate mistakes by believing in the learning process, where ‘FAILs’ are seen as an opportunity to Find Another Instance for Learning and nurture the growth mindset.
Find the best place for your child, not your best place. Try hard not lose sight of your child’s best interests by falling into the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ trap. What I mean by this is, do your research by going into the organization, have conversations, find out what their approach is towards long-term athlete development, playing and coaching and participation and actually inquire about the environment where you are dropping off your most valuable ‘possession’ every week.
Realize control by trusting them to be the captain of their ship, cliché again, but effective once more. Refrain from reliving your sporting career, expectations and ambitions through your son or daughter, they are not you and you know this! Respect and support their dreams by keeping everything in perspective. Finally, love them above all regardless of the outcomes, results or performances.
What advice would you give youth sports parents for the car journey to and from youth sports practices and/or games?
Your child is definitely more nervous than you are! So please, please help them to relax and look forward to their games. Dr. Jerry Lynch’s from The Way of Champions advice is as simple and as effective as it can possibly be, just let them play.
On the way there, my challenge to you, as you are driving to that extremely important U7 Semi-Final, is to tone the anxiety down. I would even avoid talking about it because there is nothing in the entire world that you can do to influence what is about to happen. Superpowers are the only way to influence the variables such as the weather, the opposition, the state of the pitch, the officials’ decisions, etc. In the words of RIP John Lennon, ‘let it be’ or as Doris Day sang, ‘Que será, será’… what will be, will be. If you are desperate to say something and you cannot find another topic of conversation, wish him or her fun and tell them to enjoy themselves.
Whilst returning home, or on your way to your favorite treat, be cool. Let your child tell you how they feel and why. Avoid giving technical or tactical advice as that is the coach’s job. With the best intention in the world, you might create confusion and frustration. If you have something to say about tactics and technique and the way these are being developed, maybe you should be helping out with the coaching!?
Do not let emotions rule your speech and no matter what, reinforce the agreed core values. Discuss and praise effort and resilience, set new challenges and follow John O’Sullivan’s advice, from Changing the Game Project advice and say ‘I loved watching you play’. That is it, and I do mean it, that is it.
What types of behaviours/mannerisms/comments would you encourage parents to demonstrate?
Once again, I would agree on these at the beginning of the season with parents. Come up with a series of comments based on previous input and feedback from your parents.
To demonstrate a point with other coaches or colleagues, I will follow some line to the one described below.
Juan: Coaches in the room are asked who believes decision making is important for your children or players whilst in the game. Everyone’s hands go up and immediately after I ask them, ‘who continues to shout instructions to their players when they are about to make a decision?’. Everyone’s hands stay timidly raised. It is true, we coach understand and even try to coach decision making all the time but when the time to make a decision arrives… boom! We steal that learning opportunity away from them. The learning process feeds upon trial and error. I am still yet to find an educational theory, from Piaget onwards, that proves the opposite or even attempts to refute this. How are we ever going to find out if they are actually competent at identifying what problems are being presented in a game by searching through their options, executing certain skills or tactics and assessing their choices? All of the above at a snap of a finger, with you yelling at them what you think is the right answer, from your cozy spot on the touch-line. They struggle to listen, constant information is an interference and, in my honest opinion, at this point, they do not care at all.
Therefore, do not fall into what various authors call ‘the joystick effect’. Do not attempt to control your child whilst he or she is on the field of play. I appreciate you have the best intentions in the world and you think it is in their best interest, however, hold your tongue and let them decide. Enable the learning process to take its course.
Finally, continue to cheer, applaud and encourage their efforts, those of their teammates and opponents, support the officials’ decisions, maintain positive body language, celebrate mistakes and never ever forget what you stand for and why you are there.
What is next for you as a coach / club / organisation?
I am currently growing my company which targets coach education, coach development and coach mentoring. I am thoroughly enjoying attending meetings to discuss the evolution of coaching in various corners of the world, mainly to a Spanish-speaking audience but I have also been fortunate to work in various European and Asian countries during the last twelve months. The mentoring side of the business is ticking along nicely and is something I enjoy whilst finding it very challenging, therefore, I too am constantly learning. I will be working with unions, associations, clubs, schools, universities, and companies in South America during March and April. Within the organization, there are a few more areas continually growing: our recruitment and career advisory division for young professionals, seeking to further their careers overseas, has now generated opportunities for a number of PE teachers and coaches in the United Kingdom and Europe; the visiting touring teams fixtures’ allocation with our partner in South America is popular and expanding and on top of these, I am also trying to develop a ‘positive grunting’ blog, vlog and podcast section within our website. The latter will be the foundation notes for the book that one day I am going to publish! Always looking out for thought-provoking partnerships and opportunities whilst giving a big ‘shout out’ to our current collaborators.
On the coaching front, I am still enjoying working in the independent boarding schools’ sector, coaching at the forefront of the development pathway and also helping out at the local club in town. Still fighting the good fight everywhere…
Thank you, Juan for taking the time to complete the following interview questions
You can find more about Juan and Sudamerica Coaching on these social media outlets:
LinkedIn: Sudamerica Coaching
Website: Sudamerica Coaching
The Sporting Influencer