Youth sports coaches sometimes feel like everything is conspiring against them. The majority of parents support these volunteers, but there’s always those few who take things too seriously (indeed, a survey discovered that 75 percent coaches feel parents place too much emphasis on winning). Coaches may put too much pressure on themselves to win, and experience too much of an emotional letdown when their teams don’t. There never seems enough time for all the necessary administrative duties, and coaches may feel that their leagues aren’t doing everything possible to help them.
League directors can help youth coaches by providing as much support as possible, including online team management software. But for the most part, coaches must take the initiative to improve the experience for their teams and the players in their charge. Here are five coaching tips that every youth coach needs to hear:
1. It’s only rec—it’s only rec!
Youth sports have changed over the decades—there was a time when kids played a sport only in the appropriate season, never traveled (except maybe for all-stars), and didn’t near-bankrupt their parents to play. A divergence occurred this century between competitive-level play (for serious players often competing year-round) and recreational leagues (for just about everyone else). The ultimate goal of rec sports shouldn’t be a championship at all costs, but rather, learning the game, being athletic, understanding the concept of teamwork, and having fun. Some youth coaches forget that or ignore it altogether. So let’s reiterate it here one more time: “It’s only rec!” If a player doesn’t get a hit all season but had the time of his life, his season (and yours) was a success. If you don’t win many games but the players improved from week to week, again, you can also declare success. Keeping winning and losing in perspective at this level is imperative.
2. Don’t try to do everything on your own
Many youth coaches are great with the kids but find themselves overwhelmed when dealing with all the other things that go into running a team. They don’t ask for help, or they turn help down because maybe they don’t want to impose on others … and before these coaches know it, they are in over their heads. Coaching shouldn’t leave you frazzled, so don’t try to do everything on your own. Enlist parents to compile snack schedules, keep score during games, upload pictures to the team website, send emails to other parents, and so on. And if someone wants to help with practice and games, take them up on the offer—with younger kids who aren’t as inclined to always pay attention to you, every extra adult helps.
3. Be nice to the officials
Even the best youth coaches find themselves occasionally disagreeing with referees and umpires. Parents are no better—the same coaching survey cited earlier found that 95 percent of coaches have seen a parent yell at a ref during a game. These conflicts often occur from coaches who want to do right for their players, but here’s the problem: Kids pick up on your yelling—easier than you think—and start complaining, too. Your players might not directly scream at an official, but they might start thinking they were treated unfairly and, in turn, display poor sportsmanship themselves. Set a good example and bite your tongue as much as possible, if not always. Remind the kids that their play determines an outcome of a game, not the ref. And always go out of your way to thank the official after the game.
4. Keep it fun
The best way that young athletes learn a sport and improve is by having fun at the same time. If your practices are constant repetitive drills and wind sprint upon wind sprint, kids are going to view the sport as a chore rather than something joyous. The younger the player, the more fun you should work into your practices. Again, this is rec, and the goal is the whole child, not an undefeated season.
5. Expect respect; show respect
Kids, by definition, are immature. Expecting them to be perfect angels for every practice and game is unrealistic. However, this shouldn’t mean that they can be disrespectful and not listen to you at all. Don’t beat yourself up if you have to stop practice and send unruly kids running—or even sit them down for a few minutes. In return for this respect, you must show some back. Getting angry with misbehaving players is one thing; yelling at them because they didn’t get a play right is another. As rec players, kids are going to screw up—often. The older the player, the greater the expectation, but always strive to maintain your perspective, and remember: These are just kids.
What is the best youth coaching tip you have ever heard?