Six fundamentals for youth coaches

Six steps to being a good coach, when distilled down are:
• When coaching young players, try to spend as much time as possible on their level, by taking a knee or sitting, to reduce the disparity between you and them
• Never say something negative about a player’s ability, and find something positive to go along with any corrections you need to make
• Blaming your mistakes on players only leads to their confusion and shame, and makes you appear insecure
• Part of being a good coach is being tough now and then
• Don’t tell and yell – show and know. In other words, demonstrating to your players what you want them to do, and having them show you that they’ve got it is better than talking
• Make the season fun by staying out of the traps of over competitiveness and lack of organization.

As I’ve said before…if all you do with your team this year is ensure that every youngster wants to come back and play again next season…you’ve passed with flying colors!

Words of wisdom from Wooden

John Wooden, the former UCLA basketball coach widely regarded as the greatest ever, has written Six Ways to Bring Out the Best in Other People:
1. Keep courtesy and consideration for others foremost in your mind, at home and away.
2. Try to have fun without being funny.
3. While you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you react. Make good manners an automatic reaction.
4. Seek individual opportunities to offer a genuine compliment.
5. Remember that sincerity, optimism and enthusiasm are more welcome than sarcasm, pessimism and laziness.
6. Laugh with others, never at them

A coach needs to be organized

The level of success you have this season will depend upon your organization. Your CoachDeck contains 52 great drills to assist you. But the bottom line is, come to practice with a strategy in which all players are constantly active and doing something productive, and you’ll look like a genius and wonder where the time went. Come to games with an organized plan and a prepared player rotation grid, and instead of managing chaos, you’ll be managing a team.

The need for organization goes well beyond what you do on the field. You may want to begin each season with a letter to all of your team’s parents. And don’t try to run the team it all alone. Enlist as much help as you can from other parents who come out to practice. Many of them are willing to help but do not want to “butt-in” and won’t approach you if you don’t ask. Often, once you ask another mom or dad to help out, you’ll have another assistant coach at every practice and game thereafter. But if you don’t ask at the first practice, they may just all figure you’ve “got it covered” and that you don’t want any help.

There are other aspects to your organization as well. It is important for you to set a good example to your team by always arriving to games and practices on time, if not early. You should expect nothing less of your players.

Keep your equipment bag neat and organized and make sure that you’ve got everything stored where it belongs when practice or games end. It’s a great idea to get your players in the habit of putting all the gear away after every event.

Finally, make sure you recruit a good team parent, or, if one person is unwilling to do this job alone, ask two to share the duty. A good team parent makes your life imminently easier as he/she will help you send emails and make phone calls to your team concerning practices, rainouts, game schedules and other necessary items. The team parent can organize your season snack schedule and end-of-the-year team party. I’ve had a team parent so thorough she even produced laminated roster cards for every player and their parents containing players’ names, uniform numbers and contact information, along with clips to attach them to every child’s bat bag. I can’t tell you how often I needed to call a player and used the roster card on my son’s bag because it was handy.

Your organization skills are often the difference between positive parent feedback and negative. And whether you’ve got a ton of experience coaching or are a novice, spending a few minutes ahead of time getting prepared will make you look like a pro.

When a coach is over-competitive

A coach who is over-competitive makes the season fun for his son or daughter, and perhaps one or two other kids who possess better-than-average ability. But he reduces the fun for the kids who haven’t played much in their lives, or kids who don’t quite have the skills mastered yet. This coach puts the best players in the positions that get the most action and sticks other players where it is unlikely they’ll have any opportunities. This coach believes that if his team wins, even if even if all the scoring is done by just one or two players, he looks good. Just ask yourself this question: If your child was the least skilled player on the team and you weren’t able to be there to help coach, how would you want the coach to treat him? That’s how you ought to treat all the kids with lesser ability, as frustrating as it sometimes may be. I know this from experience because I am a competitive guy and was one of those dads who probably was too concerned about “winning” (even though we didn’t keep score!) when my first son began playing T-ball. Though I rotated my players into different positions, I didn’t focus as much as I could have on every player’s improvement. Looking back on that season, I wish I’d spent more time helping some of the boys who hadn’t played much before joining Little League.

But as my younger sons came into baseball I began to realize just how special those first years really are, and what is truly important. Too many parents want their six, seven and eight year-old kids to “skip a league” and play with older players, forgetting that part of the fun at that age is just being on a team with your friends and goofing around a little. Sports, and life for that matter, will be very competitive all too soon. Slow down and enjoy the few seasons you have when it’s not life or death whether the first baseman catches the throw from third or your goalie blocked the shot, when after the game both teams think they won, and the snack is the highlight of the afternoon. Believe me, there will come a time when you’ll miss those days.

Having Fun

Your job as coach is to make this season a fun one and this should go without saying. However, too many coaches forget why they are coaching youth sports, and fall into negative patterns of behavior. Try to keep the following points in mind:
• Your number one priority, above all else, should be that each player you coach wants to come back and play again next year. If this happens, regardless of any other measuring stick, you were successful
• Your kid, my kid, none of the kids are probably going to turn out to be pro athletes, and even if one does attain that level of success, you won’t be able to tell in T-ball.
• Keeping track of the score is OK. But the younger the kids you’re coaching are, the better it is to emphasize individual improvement rather than individual achievement.
• How well, (or poorly), your team performs on game day is probably not a reflection of your coaching abilities, so take it with a grain of salt. Don’t get angry with the kids.
• Making it fun makes your season go by much faster, and your life a lot easier.

Being a great coach means so much more than winning and losing. And it is important that we all keep that in mind.

Choice of Words

The way you say something makes all the difference in the world. A coach might be frustrated with a player who he didn’t think was hustling and say, “You’re always looking for the easy way out!” Something like that can stick with a kid and do long term damage. If the coach would say instead, “You’re taking it too easy today,” the intended message would have been delivered without the risk of the player thinking the coach believed he was just lazy at heart.

After two players watched a pop fly land between them, I heard their coach say, “Did you want to catch the ball…did you not want to catch it?” How is the player supposed to respond to that question? Of course he wanted to catch it! Whenever I hear a coach ask a kid, “Did you want to hit the ball?” or “Did you want to score a goal?” I shake my head in amazement. Letting your frustration come out in the form of sarcasm like this only adds to a player’s fears and feelings of inadequacy. Keep in mind the origins of the word Coach; your job is to transport your players from where they are now, to where they want to be. I believe most players want to be somewhere and will perform better when they feel safe, comfortable and confident.

My Greatest Coaching Moment

I’ve coached thousands of kids for dozens of years in numerous sports. My teams have won league championships and all-star tournaments. But one of my greatest moments in coaching had nothing to do with winning or losing, but with a youngster who may have been playing his last game. Here’s a link to an article about Alan, and his day in the sun.