Coaching for Fun

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

It was a new riff on an old joke: I asked someone how he came to coach his daughter’s soccer team. He said, “I was standing with a group of parents and they asked for a volunteer to step forward. I stood still and everyone else stepped back.”

For those of us who have been there, have taken the reigns of a team we weren’t necessarily ready to coach, who did it more out of necessity than out of enthusiasm, we can relate. It’s funny, but then it’s also not.

Volunteer coaches are the youth sport equivalent of saints. Sure, volunteer board member also often work tirelessly for little reward. I was a board member while coaching three of my sons’ baseball teams in three different divisions. There are volunteer officials and umpires who also work hard. But an official can choose when he works. A board member who doesn’t coach isn’t in the spotlight. Coaches must be at every practice and every game. And they are the ones who take the heat when kids don’t play as much as parents think they should. When positions are decided. They are the ones criticized when the players don’t play well.

Most organizations would cease to exist without these coaches. But often, we take them for granted. We don’t always give them the support they need. We don’t show them the appreciation they deserve. Sometimes we expect too much of them in terms of requirements we demand of their time beyond the necessary practices and games. And we often expect more than we ought to when it comes to how they run practices.

For kids ages 5-10 technical training should take a back seat to fun. I’ve said this before: If a kid that age is going to be a college or pro star it’s not going to be because he had incredible coaching. If you’re not convinced, look at all of world class soccer players who grew up playing on the streets with friends from dawn to dusk. Look at the professional Latin baseball players who had no resources as children, but just played.

On the other hand, adolescents with great potential can be derailed by coaching. Coaches who are pressured to run ultra-structured practices focusing on technique and tactics take the chance of alienating children from the sport because practices are a chore. And the same goes for coaches. We all know that the attrition rate for youngsters and volunteer coaches is too high. But would anyone ever quit doing something if it were fun?

So when you look at your volunteer coaches roster before the season begins, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine yourself as a scared novice who feels unsure of himself. Think about them working a full-time job and having to ask for time off to get to practice. Consider the pressure they’re under to balance work, family time and this new responsibility and be mindful of your expectations. Do you want to make it more difficult in the vain hope that everyone is “trained properly”? Or do you want to make it easy and fun? This isn’t training for the Olympics, it’s rec sports. The kids who are going to make it are going to make it…if they choose to come back next season. And if they have someone willing to coach them.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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