Across the country, there are thousands of opportunities for kids of all ages to participate in competitive sports, ranging from city recreation programs, all the way up to elite and AAU teams. Most of these programs are led by volunteer coaches, many of whom are moms and dads of kids on the teams.
As one of those former kid athletes and now a spectator watching my grandsons from the stands, I understand the pluses and minuses of the youth sports coach. Understandably, there are the coaches who seem to love what they are doing and do it the right way. Then there are others who struggle with the concept of coaching youth sports.
Volunteer or not, I think it’s imperative that the coach asks him or herself, "Why do I want to coach? How should I coach? What is my motivation to coach?"
My biggest pet peeve with some youth sports coaches is that they stress winning over development. Winning is important for motivation and stick-to-it-ness, but learning fundamentals and life lessons is so much more important.
Positive Coaching Alliance, a national non-profit that makes "Better Athletes, Better People" through online and live courses, offers these tips for the parent-coach:
- Be clear on your own goals for coaching. Coaches of kids just starting to play a sport may have the simple goal of a season enjoyable enough that everyone returns for next season.
- Share your goals with your players and parents from the start. Have a pre-season parent meeting at the end of a practice to let them know why you are coaching. "Let them have so much fun they'll return next season" and "also teach some skills and life lessons".
- Invite the parents to help - at practices and games.
- Welcome each player by name at every practice and game. They'll feel welcome and positive.
- Plan practices that keep kids active. They'll stay more focused. Avoid lines. Bring plenty of equipment so they aren't standing around. Repeat drills for practice.
- Face the sun, take a knee and be brief. Get onto their level physically so you can see eye-to-eye. Shorter discussions helps keep the interest of those with shorter attention spans.
- Pick one or two areas of focus per practice/game. Simpler is better for focus.
- Create a team cheer and cheer often. Kids love having adults be silly with them.
- End practice/competition on a positive note. "Who saw one of your teammates do something well?" "Parents, what did you see that you liked?"
- Don't forget that it can be hard. You go in with high expectations but don't have control over the outcome. Share your challenges with coaches who have been doing it longer.
I read a blog recently by Kate Leavell, and I thought she was right on:
"Coaching youth sports is less about the sport and more about the development of people. You're leading kids with no life experience down a road that will teach them how to navigate their future in an environment filled with fun and competition. You can learn the skills and the breakdowns of your sport in the myriad of educational sources out there. What you really need to coach -- is heart! It may be stressful, take up a lot of your time, and you may feel overwhelmed, but at the end of the season, you'll never be the same, you will be (a) better, more enlightened and more passionate human being. Because once you are called coach, it won't last for just a season. Once you are called coach -- you are one for life."
Finally, Changing the Game Project says coaches are accountable to athletes in the following ways:
- Treat them with respect and encourage them as they learn.
- Be a positive role model.
- Be a clear, consistent communicator and listener.
- Make it safe to fail and learn.
Remember, it's all for the kids.
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