The Youth Sports Coach
Coaching youth sports is a challenge. Most of our kids are really happy to have us step up to the plate and coach and, despite the time we give up, most parents find the experience equally rewarding. However, there are some major things that every coach needs to do and understand before they start the season: 1) coach with the proper attitude; 2) coach with the proper fundamentals; and, 3) learn and teach the difference between the “Dad Hat” and the “Coach Hat”.
Coaching the Right Attitude
We all love our kids and, let’s face it; we also love playing sports with our kids. For me, it’s the way that I spend most of my free time and it is right up there as one of my favorite things to do. That being said, I also need to realize that statistically, none of the kids that I coach will ever play professional sports, nearly all of them will not play sports in college, and many of them will not even play varsity sports in high school. So, what does this mean for us as a coach? We need to emphasize all the other aspects of sports and the life lessons that make us love playing the game. Mostly, we need to make the experience fun!
In 1988, Robert Fulghum wrote the book “All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten”. I’ve often told people that you can learn everything you need to know by playing sports – especially youth sports. Many of the same lessons apply, but on an even bigger scale where kids learn success and failure, wining and losing, sportsmanship and teamwork, and how to respond in many pressure situations. None of these are easy lessons. Winning with grace is just as hard to teach as losing with dignity. How can you do this and make sure that everybody has a great season? That’s the trick.
Every team you ever coach, especially teams with younger kids, will be split between kids that are talented and kids that are not. The goal that you have as a coach is to make sure that every one of those kids has a great experience and wants to play again next year. I take the most pride in the job I did as a coach when the worst kid on the team loves the sport and keeps playing year after year. The way that I do this is to emphasize things other than on field performance – I try to stress effort, trying your best and hustle.
There are several practical things that you can do to emphasize these “other” characteristics. In basketball, for example, instead of emphasizing and keeping stats for scoring, keep stats on hustle, picks set, good defense, rebounds, filling a lane, or just being in the right position. After every game, point out something positive that every kid did during the game. Award a point for each time a kid does something you emphasize and give stars or sew on patches when points are accumulated. You’ll see that these kids will do anything to get a star on their uniform, even pay attention in practice!
Coaching the Right Fundamentals
Kids of any age can learn to do things properly. They may not have the motor skills developed yet, but they can at least try to do it right. One of my favorite misconceptions is that “practice makes perfect”. That’s totally wrong; practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes PERMANENT. What I try to teach is: “Perfect Practice Makes Permanently Perfect”. That’s a pretty big difference!
Of course, this really changes things for a youth coach because we need to teach the correct fundamentals or we’ll simply be reinforcing the bad habits kids develop. The hardest thing to do as a coach is to try and correct a flaw that a kid has developed over years of “practice”. This is even harder when the kid is good, because correcting the fundamental flaw generally means that getting worse before getting better. That means the kid is going to be reluctant to try this “new” way and may not stick it out. In the long run, the difference could be huge. While we’ve already acknowledged that that we’re not developing professional athletes, there is no reason to limit the ceiling on how well each child may develop. Coach’s Corner, Continued
The solution is simple: we need to learn the right fundamentals before we start coaching. It’s a responsibility that we accept when we volunteer to coach. Now, up front, I want to make sure to state that most of us think we know much more about sports than we really do. We think that because we played and we were pretty good that we clearly know how to teach a kid to play baseball or basketball. That’s simply not true. Much of what we learned was wrong. We may also not know the right way to communicate what we know to kids. Or, we may not know anything about the sport if we’re stepping in and coaching soccer or another sport that wasn’t “big” when we were young.
Fortunately, there is help. Many leagues do a good job teaching their coaches the fundamentals of the game. Some leagues even offer mandatory coaching clinics for their coaches. These are really good starts, but generally not enough – especially as the kids you coach get older and better. Before every season that I coach, I’ll watch several instructional tapes to review the fundamentals and also learn new material. I re-watch tapes, often with my kids that we’ve seen before and buy a couple of new ones to add some wrinkles. Of course, at SportsKids.com, we do offer 1,000’s of instructional books and videos, but the point of this section is to simply say to use whatever method you choose to make sure that you teach correct fundamentals. Every kid, even young kids, can learn with good coaching and remember: “Practice makes Permanent”.
The “Dad Hat” and the “Coach Hat”
There is a huge difference between being a “Dad” and being a “Coach”. Each has different responsibilities and relationships with the kids. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of overlap between the two roles. I literally have two hats: one says “Dad” and the other says “Coach”. Over the years, my kids and I have learned to separate the two so I don’t wear the hats too often, but it does make the distinction more literal. Coaching your own children is one of the real challenges of youth sports because sometimes, you child wants or expects to have a dad when you’re the team’s coach. If you can separate these roles, and both of your expectations, you and your child will have a much better youth sports experience.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ken Kaiserman is the president of www.sportskids.com, a leading youth sports website featuring games, sports news, sports camp and league directories, community features, and the SportsKids.com Superstore with over 150,000 products.