A coach can never lose sight of what they are trying to do, or better yet, should be doing.
You are coaching to teach the fundamentals of a sport, instill a sense of pride and teamwork, make children healthy through exercise, and most of all, make kids enjoy what they are doing. And if you win in the process, life is great.
But accomplishing this in today’s world is extremely difficult, and it is important that prospective coaches know what they are getting into. I have found over and over again, that usually the easiest part of the day for a coach, is the coaching. Too much of the time, coaches have to deal with problems beyond the field. And while some parents can be awesome to work with, others only worry about what is best for their child, and in some cases, themselves.
I have been a high school teacher for 19 years, coached varsity football and track at three different high schools for 15 years, been an assistant to my son’s youth football team (grades 4-6) for 3 years, and a head coach to my son’s 7th and 8th grade football team. I even coached a chess team for 8 years. In all those years I have learned plenty. I have tried to narrow down a long list to what I believe are the top 5 tips to being a better coach for youth sports.
1. Be Knowledgeable
The absolute most important thing for coaches is to be knowledgeable. Your knowledge will ensure the safety and confidence of your players. Your knowledge will give your team a chance to be successful. Players have to understand the proper techniques…how to hit a baseball, how to make a tackle in football, how to kick a soccer ball. Eventually you have to apply what you are doing more extensively, like devising an offensive/defensive game plan. (Which is not as easy as it may seem) Whatever the sport, know what you are talking about.
And today, learning about your sport has never been easier. There are extensive websites that provide drills, explanations and videos, and many done by recognizable coaches in the industry. There are probably coaching clinics that are offered in your area. And if you are looking to get better as a coach, go talk to one. Many high school coaches are willing to give you the information you need, because the kids you are coaching today, will be their players tomorrow.
Do not be discouraged when you start. It takes time to accumulate the knowledge you need.
2. Be Organized
All coaches need to have a plan. You need a plan for specific skill acquisition through drills. You need to plan practices and which children are going to do which drills. You need to determine how much time is going to be spent on individual, group and team instruction. You need to determine who is going to play which positions and how to divide the playing time in the game itself. And the only way to do this is to be organized. If knowledge in your sport is 1 in terms of importance, organization is 1a.
I would start by putting your team’s roster on a spreadsheet format, and making many copies. You will probably need to give rosters to the people in charge of the league, you will need to distribute equipment and keep track of who has what, you will need rosters for weigh ins, to make sure the proper paper work has been collected, and to keep track of attendance throughout the year. If you can think of it, you will need to keep it documented.
I would also sit down before the season and put down on paper the plays and drills you will be looking to use and how you will execute them. You must also devise a practice schedule so you know how much time to spend on something, which coaches will be where, and how long practice should be. No matter what you do, save it to your computer. This will come in handy the following year, and then all you have to do is update it.
3. Prepare for the Future
You are preparing children for their future, not yours. Ultimately, you should want kids to continue playing the sport you are coaching, not quit because of you. I have seen quite a few children end up quitting a sport because they are miserable. They are miserable from a lack of playing time, getting yelled at by the coaches, and pressure from their parents, and I have seen this happen to kids as young as 3rd and 4th grade.
I am shocked at how many people, who just because they played a sport, think they are qualified to coach it. I can not begin to convey, how many coaches teach incorrect technique because they are not knowledgeable. Just because you were taught a certain way of doing something 25 years ago, or played the sport, it does not make what you know correct. Make sure you are instructing the proper techniques, and just because your team is winning does not mean it is the right technique.
Keep in mind you are preparing individuals for team roles as well as individual ones. While, “Johnny” might be your all-star player in 4th grade, remember that he is in 4th grade! And while “Tommy” might be a poor, uncoordinated player today, do not be surprised if Tommy is the better player in high school. Kids mature at different rates. Do not discourage a kid from playing a sport later in life.
Make sure that your players understand the importance of teamwork, and what must be accomplished above all, is the success of the team. And the success of team does not mean going undefeated, or blowing out an opponent and not letting everyone play. Trust me, I love winning as much as the next person, after all, it is why they keep score. But winning should not be the be all and end all.
You might need to remind yourself, and your parents of this. And that brings me to another point. Having a meeting with all parents before the season is a nice way to establish many of the things mentioned in this article.
4. Model Behavior
The best way to tell kids how they should act is to show them. Be a role model for your assistant coaches, players and parents. Demand the same in return. Be consistent with what you expect from all of your players, and how you handle things. And remember you are coaching. Keep things positive and if a child is doing something wrong, explain what they need to do in order to be successful.
I have seen coaches berate 3rd and 4th graders at a flag football game. I have seen coaches swear at middle school players. I have heard fans scream and swear at their own coaches at parochial games. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior, but the reality of today’s world is that it is going to happen. Be prepared, because it will happen to you.
I coached with a high school legend in our area for 10 years, and never once did he utter a swear word. He won two state championships doing things the right way. He was accountable, he held his assistants accountable, he held his players accountable and in return, the parents were accountable.
All of the previously mentioned tips would not be possible without being able to communicate. Coaches must communicate constantly. Much of the time a coach will essentially be teaching, and understanding how to communicate a message is as important as knowing what to say. And trust me, there can be a big difference between coaching girls and boys, especially the older they become. Keep what you are saying simple, clear and positive.
Keep what you are trying to do simple. It can become very easy to try and do too much offensively and defensively. I have seen youth teams have more offensive plays and calls then a high school team.
Do not take it for granted that your players will understand the lingo/jargon and rules that are common in the sport you are coaching. When you tell a player they have to, “go vertical” that might need some explanation. Before executing a game plan, review the plays that are going to be run, over and over again.
Prepare the kids for the many situations they may face in a game, so they know what to do when it happens.
Keep team meetings brief. I have been with coaches who love to hear themselves talk. I have heard 5th and 6th grade coaches give 20 minute speeches after practice.
Depending upon the size of your team, and the sport you are coaching, you are going to need assistant coaches who are also willing to commit to the five tips I have given. It is important that they reinforce what you are trying to do.
The bottom line about coaching is that it ensures children will learn and grow as people, athletes and citizens.
And while there are many challenges awaiting coaches, there is nothing more rewarding then watching children learn, grow and appreciate the sport they are playing.