Do You Want to Be a Youth Coach?

By Jeffrey Rhoads

Are you thinking about becoming a youth coach? Besides considering your qualifications to teach your sport, you will run through a number of questions in your mind including, “Do I want to get involved? Am I ready to commit my time and energies?” Implicit in these personal questions is another one: “What are the benefits?”

If you’re coaching your own son or daughter, the benefits may seem obvious. But there are a host of other reasons to coach youth sports–both good ones and bad ones.

Coaching youth sports provides a coach with many internal rewards including a strong sense of personal satisfaction in teaching young children how to both participate in and enjoy sports. As a coach, there’s a special feeling in knowing that your efforts have helped a young player realize that they too can contribute and play the sport–seeing their self-esteem takes a step forward as a result of your efforts.

When I coach, I enjoy building a team–developing each player’s skills and understanding of the game, and then watching a bond slowly form among them as they begin to share a common goal. More selfishly, I like being part of a team, competing, and staying connected to the child inside me. I also enjoy playing basketball with my former players when they become adults, each of us appreciating the unique community and circle we are a part of.

What about the reasons not to coach? If you’re competitive to the point that this attitude dominates your coaching decisions and behavior, you may want to step aside and let someone else coach. Screaming at the officials and your players, placing too great an emphasis on winning (versus fun and learning), and using an overly critical teaching style, are all characteristics of the potentially hurtful youth coach.

But If your heart’s in the right place, and you feel that you’re reasonably qualified to coach youth, why not give it a try?

Here’s a story that describes my first “big” moment in coaching. If you’re still on the fence about coaching, you may find it helpful. As you read the following words, ask yourself how you would feel if you were in my place. What rewards would you take away from this experience?

As a town recreation counselor during my college summers, I taught fourth through sixth graders fundamental basketball skills and also officiated their games. At the end of the summer, an All-Star game was played between teams representing each of our town’s two parks.

On the team that I coached was a sixth grader named Chris who was an outgoing boy who loved to shoot the ball and score. But when it came to playing good defense, or expending energy on anything other than the offensive side of his game, Chris seemingly could care less. He had a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward the game.The All-Star game was closely contested and went into overtime. With little time left and the score tied, I called a timeout and ran through what I wanted my team to do. Chris, bending over, still breathing hard from his all-out defensive effort, looked up at me and proclaimed, “Coach, if we win this game, I promise to hustle the rest of my life!”

More experienced coaches and parents are probably accustomed to these types of statements from young boys. But for me back then, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing at this unexpected and exceedingly earnest statement. Besides the humor of Chris’s prospective life commitment, I was also struck by his desire to succeed and willingness to expend all of his remaining energies to help our team win. That moment revealed a noble part of Chris’s character I hadn’t seen before.

I don’t remember whether our team won or lost the game, but I haven’t forgotten that timeout. To finish the story, I happened to run into Chris years later when he was a young adult. He introduced himself to me, and we talked briefly about those summers in the town park. Before our conversation ended, Chris said, “Coach, do you remember that All-Star game I played in?” I told him I did. He went on to talk about the thrill he experienced playing in that game. Years later, that game still represented a fulfilling moment in Chris’s life–a proud remembrance of meeting a challenge early in life and playing to the best of his ability.

Although Chris’s experience came in the heat of an All-Star game, I’ve many times since seen the same response from players of limited skill engaged in a competitive game. They too have found themselves playing an integral, exciting part in something larger than themselves. They’ve also experienced the personal satisfaction of contributing to the success of their team, whether it was sinking a shot or setting a screen that freed a teammate to score.

So Coach, “Are you in?”

Jeffrey Rhoads has coached youth sports for over 25 years and worked with all levels of young players. He is the author of The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child. His blog, Inside Youth Sports, can be found at:http://www.insideyouthsports.org.
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