A Behavior Checklist for Youth Sports Coaches (Part 1 of 3)

by Dr. Darrell J. Burnett

When the UCLA Sports Laboratory surveyed children for the main reasons why they continue to participate in youth sports, the number one reason given was positive coach support. Research points to the benefits of getting kids to continue to participate in youth sports, noting that kids who stay in sports tend to stay in school, get better grades and have fewer behavioral problems.

It seems obvious that the key to a successful youth sports program where the kids keep coming back is positive support, which the kids feel from their coach.

It is extremely important that we, as coaches, remember that a successful youth coach is defined not in terms of a won-loss record, but in terms of how many kids decide to return to play again next year.

I praise my kids just for participating.

It’s important for us, as coaches, to put youth sports in the proper perspective. Kids have lots of pressures growing up today and it seems silly for adults to add more pressure in an area which is supposed to be “fun and games.” The first thing we need to do is to give the child credit for choosing to play a sport rather than hang out during free time. We need to credit each player just for being there. The youngster chose to sign up, come to practice and come to the games. Even when the child is having a bad day at practice or the game, at least he/she is participating and not dropping out. We need to remind ourselves not to notice and praise kids only when they achieve. It’s easy to praise the kids who do well in a sport. We also need to praise the youngsters who don’t shine but who stay with a sport day in and day out, showing up for practice and games, even though their playing time is limited.

I look for positives and make a big deal out of them.

It is said that a major source of a child’s self-view is what they hear about themselves from others, especially from adults. If we want to help promote a positive self-view in kids while they play sports we need to concentrate on looking for positives and then noticing them with animated praise.

Research shows that a healthy relationship has a 4 to 1 ratio of positives to negatives. That’s a good rule of thumb for coaches. As we arrive for practice or games, we should be thinking of trying to keep a healthy ratio of positives to negatives.

Moreover, if we want kids to hear the positives, we have to be specific. “Nice try” and “good game” are too vague. Kids need something specific so they can visualize it and remember it (i.e., “I like the way you hit the cut-off man,” “I like the way you kept hustling until the whistle blew.”) Helping a youngster notice his/her specific progress are all ways of noticing positives.

Finally, it’s not enough simply to notice a positive. It’s equally important to “make a big deal” out of it, to praise with animation. Why? Because kids hear, respond to and remember action. The bigger public commotion we make as a coach when a kid does something right, the better. In fact, a good motto is: “Praise in public and criticize in private.”

I stay calm when kids make mistakes, helping them learn from their mistakes.

The key to positive coach support is the art of interacting with a child after a mistake has been made. Ideally, youth sports offer kids great lessons in life: 1) it’s OK to make a mistake, 2) mistakes are inevitable and 3) mistakes are stepping stones for learning.

When a youngster makes a mistake in a sport, one of two things can occur: 1) the youngster can learn from the mistake and try to improve the next time; or 2) the youngster can become preoccupied with the fear of making another mistake.

If a coach stays calm and tries to instruct the child, there’s a chance that the child will see the mistake as an opportunity to learn. If the coach stays calm there’s a chance that the kid will stay calm, focus on the mistake and learn from it.

Unfortunately, as human beings, we often tend to have more animation in our reactions to negatives than in our reactions to positives. So it takes an extra effort on our part as coaches to remind ourselves to do all in our power to try to stay calm when mistakes occur. (Next: Checklist Part Two)

Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice for 25+ years in Laguna Niguel, California. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website, www.djburnett.com, along with his other books, booklets and CDs on youth sports and family life.

Coach Evaluation Script

Now that baseball seasons have wrapped up, it might not be a bad time to consider contacting the parents in your league to get some quality feedback on the year. We’re not looking to dig up any issues, but feel that if every division coordinator can contact the parents on each team with the script provided below, it does several things. Yes, you may find out there were issues with a coach or manager, which will help you next season when determining who your volunteers will be. You will also get some great feedback you may not have expected. And, maybe most importantly, the goodwill you’ll engender with your league parents, who will so greatly appreciate the time you’re taking in allowing them to be heard, will go a long way towards strengthening your league. Here’s what what we recommend saying:

Hi, this is ______________ calling from ____________League, may I speak with (dad) or (mom)?

We’re doing some coach and manager evaluation and I’d like to ask a couple questions if you don’t mind. By the way, anything you tell me is completely confidential.

Response: “OK.”

OK, the coaches were ___________ and _____________, and the manager was _________________. How would you evaluate the coaches on their overall baseball knowledge? How would you evaluate them on their interaction with the kids? Would you recommend them for next year? And how about the manager, and his baseball knowledge? How about his interaction with the kids? Would you recommend him for next year? So on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the season your son/daughter had? Any issues, or anything the board should know about?

The more of these calls, the better you’ll feel about the product you’re putting on the field for the community. Pick up the phone!

A Team of One

By Tony Earp

Spending some time at a soccer tournament this past weekend and watching a lot of youth soccer games, mainly U12 and under, I noticed something very interesting. On many teams, the same player was being called on to do almost everything on the field. The same player always took each direct kick, goal kick, corner kick, or any other set piece for the team, and the team tried to get this player the ball as often as possible. You could probably guess which player this was? Yes, it was the player with the strongest kick, was the fastest, most skilled, and who could give the team the best chance to score or have success. The player was a Team of One. The team relied on this player to help secure a result in the game through taking all the set pieces and having that player be the focus of the team strategy. The player rarely came off the field and was asked to do almost everything on the field. To quote from one of my favorite movies, it is a “Pass it to the Italians” type of approach to the game.

What about the other players on the team? If this is truly a team sport and we are trying to develop all the players on the field, why would we not give other players on the field the opportunity to be the player over the ball in those situations? How do they learn what to do with the ball, how to strike it, where to play it, if never given the chance? A coach might say, “Well, the other players cannot do it or play the ball where we need.”

Two things here: 1) A coach’s job is to teach and help kids learn how to do things they cannot already do. Simply deciding a player cannot do something is not coaching. It is giving up. 2) If a player knows he or she will never be asked to do something in a game, the player will never take the time to try to improve that skill area. There is no reason to practice something the player will never get the chance to do.

The other players on these teams are being deprived of opportunities to “be the player” the team relies on in these situations. Not matter what the result, each time a player gets a chance to take one of these dead ball situations or play in a certain position, the player learns something new and it helps them grow as a player. If the games are just an extension of practice at the younger age groups, all players on the field need the chance to practice being involved in all situations of the game.

It seems logical to have players practice a skill they have not learned how to do yet as it is the only way to get better. In a training session, I do not think a coach would allow the players who are good at dribbling to be the only players who dribble, and only players good at passing to pass, and the players good at shooting are the only ones allowed to shoot. I am pretty sure all players need practice in all of these areas. A game is no different. The players all need opportunities to do work on not just their stronger skills but the skills they need to improve on. This means all players need to be put in situations in the game that the team relies on them through the run of play and in set pieces.

Now, if you think games are different. Games are not practice. The games are for competing and getting a result.  If this is how you feel, then having the same player take all the set pieces and dead ball situations in a game because it helps your team be successful does match up with your coaching philosophy. Getting that player the ball as often as possible throughout the game, as it will help your team win, makes a lot of sense based on your goals for the game.

On the other hand, if you feel the game is about ALL the players on your team developing and learning how to play the game, getting all the experiences necessary to continue to grow, then having the same player do everything on the field does not match up with your coaching philosophy and approach. Instead, players should be given opportunities to play important roles within the team and asked to do various things on the field, not the same things over and over. This does not mean giving other players these opportunities ONLY when your team is already up by five goals and the result of the game has been determined.

Yes, older teams, college and professional, have players who take a majority of the set pieces or are relied on to do much more than others based on their position and role within the team’s system of play. But I am not talking about that age group or level of player. I am talking about youth players, at the younger ages who are still learning and developing their skills. If we do not know which kids will grow up to continue to play this game, or how players will physically, mentally, or technically develop, I think it is important that all young players get to experience all aspects of the game. If not, then we need to hope that our strongest players at 10 years old are still our strongest players at 18 years old. This seems like a big gamble on only a small percentage of the kids who start out playing the game by only giving a select few most of the opportunities to develop.

I have seen teams that allow whichever player is closest to where the ball is to be the one to takes a free kick. A defender does not come up from the back to take the corner kick because that player has the biggest leg. Instead, the player playing in a position closest to where the kick is to be taken is the one who is given the chance. To do this, kids would need to be rotating positions as well, but in short, the kids know if they are near the ball, it is their responsibility. This means all kids need to know what to do in all of these situations so they are prepared when given the opportunity. Again, this gives all players the opportunity to practice these skills and they will learn what to do when in these types of situations. I think educating each player and giving all the players a chance is a better approach to a team sport than just allowing one player to do it all.

When teams are really committed to helping all players learn how to play the game, the coach and organization gives all players on that team the same opportunities. If not, than it is not a team. Instead, it is a group of players who rely on one player, or a Team of One. The success of all the other players relies on the skill, strength and talent of one player. This is normally the approach taken by teams with a “win first, teach second” type of environment. The more professional and developmental approach is creating a team of many, all of whom are given the chance to contribute in the same ways to the team’s success during games. Creating a Team of One is a very recreational approach to the game, and no better than a “Pass it to the Italians” approach to coaching.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Sad day for a Little League

We’ve been posting about the Little League World Series and those who have been following it for years will be familiar with Warner Robins Little League in Georgia due to the immense success they’ve had in recent history. This story is not so positive. Unfortunately, things like this happen all to often when personal greed and lack of oversight combine to create temptation.

Pearland again to the Little League World Series

The the beast from Texas. They also are a CoachDeck client. The kids from Pearland Little League have survived the ultra-competitive Southwest Regional for the right to compete in the LLWS in Williamsport. Great job! Also, congratulations to two New Mexico leagues, Paradise Hills and Altamont, also clients, both of which were District Champs in New Mexico!

More District, Section, State Champions

In the Little League Baseball Southeast Region we have a ton of clients who had great all-star success this year. Culpeper County, York County National, Southwestern Youth Association, Virginia Beach American, Central Loudoun National and Cave Spring American all won District Championships in Virginia. Myers Park/Trinity won their district in North Carolina. Florida Little Leagues Northwest Leon, Viera/Suntree, Palm Coast and Keystone not only won their district but their section as well, with Keystone, one of our first-ever clients, winning the State Championship! Congratulations all!

Gillette Little League, Wyoming State Champions!

What a year Gillette Little League turned in, winning the 2015 State Championship. We’re proud they are a client of ours and know those kids and coaches were probably doing the “0-2 drill” all season! Great job, Gillette!


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