Setting the Tone for a Positive Experience

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

Some coaches have a difficult time handling the youth sports atmosphere, and some may underestimate their importance to their players.

The No. 1 reason why kids come back is positive coaching. Coaches must grasp the idea that their role is important. When I talked to coaches and we define a successful coach, it isn’t determined by their win-loss record. The coach has to keep the kids involved.

There are four needs a coach must establish for a child to keep him or her returning to youth sports.

  1. A sense of belonging.
    If the children cannot find a group to come to them, they’ll go to the group. The coach can add to that sense of belonging by making the child feel like part of the team. This point leads to the second need.
  2. To feel worthwhile.
    If the coach relates to the kid as a person and as a member of the team, it will add to the value of youth sports.
  3. A sense of dignity.
    The coach’s job is to treat the children with respect, and let them know they will be treated with respect simply for coming out and playing.
  4. A sense of control.
    The coach lets the children know they are in control of their own destiny, and lets them work their way into a role on the team.

The other job of the coach is to control the parents to prevent a situation from getting out of hand. The first step is to define unruly behavior.

If you’re going to deal with unruly parents, you’ve got to have it all spelled out before the season begins. A preseason meeting with the parents can help prevent any unwanted situation. Coaches need to tell parents that offensive language, and the berating of players, coaches and officials are unacceptable. The coach also must provide consequences for any action considered inappropriate.

If there is a situation, the first step is to remain calm, otherwise you can feed the fire.

When a situation occurs, the coach has to have some way of dealing with it. One way is to have other parents who participated in the preseason meeting talk to the offending parent to try to calm him or her down. After the event occurs, the coach must become the teacher, so the parent understands what he or she did wrong and why it was considered unacceptable. The coach has to look for the positives in every situation.

Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. As a member of the National Speakers Association he is active on the lecture circuit. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME!(Youth, Sports & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website,, along with his other books, booklets, and audio cassettes on youth sports and family life.

May OnDeck Newsletter out tomorrow

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Behavior Checklist (Part 3 of 3)

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

I maintain a “Fun is #1” attitude, with lots of laughter and a sense of humor.

Fun is the major motivator for kids in sports. In survey after survey, whenever youngsters are asked why they play sports, the number one reason is always the same – to have fun. Winning is on the list but it is last on the list. Kids like to compete, but it’s the fun of competing, the excitement of competing, not just the winning.

Research shows that kids learn better when they’re having fun. The effective coach is the coach who learns what fun is for the kids by getting into their shoes and seeing the world from their point of view, the world of fun. The effective coach knows that fun; laughter and humour are second nature to kids.

I emphasize teamwork and help kids think “we” instead of “me.”

One of the major cornerstones of self-esteem is developing a sense of belonging. We’re social animals and we need to feel as though we belong to a group. Youth sports offer an automatic sense of belonging (team name, team uniforms, team photos, team picnics, etc.) However, a coach plays a central role in making the “team” concept become a reality. The coach makes sure that all kids on the team get recognized, not just the “stars.” The coach does not allow teammates to criticize each other. The coach encourages parents to notice and compliment all the players on the team, not just their own kids, and not just the “stars.”

I am a role model of good sportsmanship.

In an age where sportsmanship is struggling to survive in professional, college and often in high school sports, the youth sports coach is the key role model of good sportsmanship. Youngsters are looking to the coach to show them the way in the three areas of sportsmanship; 1) winning without gloating, 2) losing without complaining and 3) treating opponents and officials with fairness, generosity and courtesy.

The task of the positive coach is to teach youngsters to be in control of their emotions throughout the competitive contest and afterward in their interactions with opponents and officials.

A final note.
As coaches we are human beings, not robots. In spite of the best intentions we may all have our bad days. Hopefully, using the items on the behavior checklist as guidelines, we will stay on task throughout the season, working toward our goal of offering positive coach support, doing our part to make each season a success where youngsters decide to come back next year and to stay involved in youth sports during their formative years.

Full Checklist (Print and save):

  • I praise kids just for participating.
  • I look for positives, and make a big deal out of them.
  • I stay calm when my kids make mistakes, helping them learn from their mistakes.
  • I have reasonable and realistic expectation.
  • I treat my kids with respect, avoiding put-downs, sarcasm, and ridicule.
  • I remind my kids not to get down on themselves.
  • I remember not to take myself too seriously during the game.
  • I maintain a Fun is #1 attitude, with lots of laughter and sense of humour.
  • I emphasize teamwork, and help my kids think “we” instead of “me.”
  • I am a role model of good sportsmanship:

(a) Winning without gloating

(b) Losing without complaining

(c)Treating opponents and officials with fairness, generosity, & courtesy.

Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice for 25+ years in Laguna Niguel, California. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website,, along with his other books, booklets and CDs on youth sports and family life.