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What we’ve learned about coach training

Did you know that before CoachDeck we were CoachGuide? CoachGuide was the first of its kind, distance learning course where coaches could log into a website, take a multi-media class designed to teach them how to do everything from run practices to deal with parents, ensure safety and manage games. It sounded great at the time. But there’s a reason CoachGuide didn’t make it and CoachDeck did.

This is our seventh year in business and during that time we’ve spoken with hundreds of thousands of youth league administrators in soccer, baseball, softball, basketball and football. We hear from many of them that they have given their coaches books or DVD’s; that their coaching director has developed a coaching manual; or that they’ve sent their coaches to websites to get drills and practice plans. What they inevitably discover is what we already knew eight years ago when we came up with the idea for CoachDeck. The average, busy volunteer coach works a full-time job, has a busy life, and it is everything they can do to simply get to practice on time from work. If you give these coaches a book or a manual, the first thing they think is, “When will I have time to look at this?” and it ends up sitting in the back seat of the car all season. Same with instructional videos. And, as we discovered with CoachGuide, after the average volunteer coach comes home from work, has dinner and puts the kids to bed, the last thing he wants to do is log on to a website that’s going to teach him to do something he doesn’t get paid to do. We tried to give subscriptions to CoachGuide away for free to gain some traction and still almost no one would take the course. So we asked ourselves, “How can we get everything a coach needs to run a great practice into a compact, portable product that can be taken right onto the field, divided up among assistant coaches and maybe even make it kind of fun?” That’s when the idea for a deck of cards with fifty-two color-coded drills was born.

When we were building our CoachGuide website, we reached out to several national organizations who were in the youth coaching space and inquired about partnering with them. They must have liked the idea because they soon had their own version of online training available. Now there are tons of them on the market. But from what we can tell, there isn’t an overwhelming number of people logging in, watching hours of streaming video, downloading practice plans and printing sheets of paper to take to their grade school child’s practices.

And we know there are countless well-intentioned, and probably well-written in-house coaching manuals out there. We’ve seen many of them and some are impressive. But it’s one thing to write a great manual and another to get someone to read it. Fifteen years ago, I was my Little League’s T-ball coordinator. I wrote a manual that, in my opinion, covered all the basics of running a team for a T-ball coach. When I held my preseason meeting, my coaches were complimentary. I remember one of them asking how I had the time to write it. It wasn’t elaborate…I tried to make it simple and easy to read. I thought I had answered every potential question and headed off any and all issues an inexperienced volunteer might encounter. Guess what I found out over the next few weeks? No one read it. How do I know? Because I took calls daily from my coaches with questions, the answers to which were in the manual! After the seventh or eighth time I stopped saying, “You know that’s in the manual you received,” and just gave them the information they were looking for.

I’ll always remember one year when I was coaching my daughter’s 12U rec softball team and the league held a coaching clinic on a cold, (for San Diego) January day prior to the start of the season. All the coaches from U6 to U14 attended, huddling on the aluminum bleachers as the league’s coaching coordinator began the training. The first thing he did was hand all of us, (probably fifty coaches) a manual he’d put together and had printed at the copy store. It was over eighty pages. It included sections on nutrition, psychology, bio-mechanical training and much, much more. The guy is a friend of mine. Was his heart in the right place? Absolutely. Do I believe anyone of those 50+ coaches read more than two pages of the manual? Absolutely not. The reason we developed CoachDeck is that we learned, when it comes to volunteer coaches, less is usually more. And the simpler, the better.

We’re not saying CoachDeck is the one and only resource that should be provided to coaches. A small percentage really will study through books and online training. And as I wrote last month, we feel coaching clinics have their place. What’s important is to pick the tool that is most likely to be used by the greatest number of volunteers and let that be the primary offering. And if there is room to supplement with additional materials, all the better.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC (www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.

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 (www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.