The Pros and Cons of Coaching Clinics

By Brian Gotta

Every year, as we talk to youth sport leagues across the country, we hear of organizations conducting coaching clinics for their volunteer coaches. We’re big believers in this type of training and think everyone should do it. However, there are some ways to make clinics more effective and, even at their best, coaching clinics have limitations.

No clinic I ever attended, or ran as my league’s Coaching Coordinator, boasted 100% perfect attendance. I know some organizations “mandate” that all volunteers go through certification of some kind before allowing them to step on the field. But in the majority of leagues, where it is an annual struggle to convince enough parents just to take a team, “mandatory” training usually means, “highly-suggested.”

The biggest drawbacks to clinics is that even those who do attend can only retain about 30% of what they see and hear. And that diminishes as the season goes on. Many coach trainers assume they’ll have the complete, undivided attention of their attendees. Then, weeks later, can’t understand why something covered in an hours-long session is forgotten or hasn’t been learned. Trainers often don’t anticipate this phenomenon because, if the situation were reversed, they would hang on every word of instruction. They would take copious notes. They are passionate about the sport and its proper teaching. Most parent-volunteers don’t share that same level of fervor.

So while there are some limitations to coaching clinics, the benefits still make them important cornerstones of your coach training program. However, be sure to pay attention to three aspects of your session: Duration, Format and Approach.

It would not be accurate to simply say, “The shorter the better,” since, obviously, a one-minute clinic or a five-minute clinic would have no value. However there is an amount of time where, once exceeded, attendees become like saturated sponges. All additional information poured on to them just flows over and off. I attended a mandatory soccer coaching clinic when I wanted to coach my daughter’s U6 recreation team. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I knew little about coaching soccer and needed some instruction. But this clinic began at 9:00 AM, broke for a 30-minute lunch, and then ended at 3:30. After a few slices of pizza, in the baking sun, many of the dads were nodding off while on their feet. There wasn’t much we were learning at that juncture.

Coach training sessions can take the form of a static lecture, or a hands-on participatory event. Most fall somewhere in the middle, but the more interactive they are, the more effective. Don’t just tell, show and tell. No one wants to go to a clinic and sit in hot aluminum bleachers for an hour or two and listen to someone drone on about how to run a practice. In a perfect scenario, every coach will be able to participate. However, I’ve run baseball clinics with sixty coaches and to get all of them up in pairs, throwing baseballs back and forth, while still in a position to hear instruction, would have been unfeasible. Yet by choosing a different group of volunteers to demonstrate each drill for the group so that everyone was involved at some point, I believe the they got more out of it than if I had just done it for them.

Some instructors put on elaborate and complex trainings because they like showing off their immense knowledge. Others do so because they simply misjudge their audience. Either way, spending hours teaching the advanced skills you learned in college or the pros to a group of moms and dads who will be in charge of grade-schoolers would be like sending them to a graduate-school foreign language class and expecting them to be fluent by afternoon. They need a few things they can take with them: Make it fun; Turn every drill into a game; Encourage instead of criticize; show instead of tell, etc. Kids this age are not like cement. They won’t be ruined for life if not taught the precise fundamentals at an early age. Eventually, those who continue playing and want it will get expert coaching. But if they quit playing because practices were a chore, they’ll never have a chance.

And here’s my pitch for our product, CoachDeck. The feedback we get from organizations everywhere is that CoachDeck is the perfect supplement to help coaches put into action what they’ve seen and heard a their coaching clinics. And for those who can’t attend or don’t retain much, it’s even more valuable. When volunteer coaches take the field to run a practice where other parents are watching, they know they’re on stage — their performance being judged. Imagine training someone for a big speech but then telling him to get behind the podium without any outline, and just go from memory. I doubt many of us would enjoy that challenge. That’s why providing your coaches with a CoachDeck is like giving them notes they can slip in their pocket to ensure they look and perform like pros at every practice, all season long. Coaching clinics are tremendously valuable. But by recognizing their limitations, we can better formulate a training program that benefits the greatest number of our hard-working volunteers.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC ( He can be reached at