Youth Sports Coaching – The Golden Rules

Youth Sports Coaching – The Golden Rules

Youth sports coaches in recent years have come under more scrutiny than ever before.  From four year old teams to high school and college coaching ranks, there has been a magnifying glass honed in on the leader of the squad – the youth coach.  Obviously, that can be a good thing.  We entrust these men and women with our kids for a few hours a day.

We want them using good judgment, protecting them from avoidable harm and providing them with the guidance they are entrusted to provide.  As with any situation such as coaching, however, there is the flip side, where you read stories of confrontations from parents, unheard of competitive pressure to win at all costs or coaches who simply think they are the next Vince Lombardi or Bobby Knight.

Being on both sides of that fence as a parent and as a youth sports coach, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly.  I have had parents come to me as a coach and thanking me for my efforts with their child.  I have heard parents yell at me from the stands during games.  I have seen a parent want to go after one of the opposing team’s pitchers during one of our baseball games because that pitcher had just hit his son as he was batting.

As a parent, I’ve seen coaches who try and practice 48 different plays to a group of 6 and 7 year basketball players who can barely dribble a basketball.  I’ve seen coaches who pretty much act as babysitters, letting the kids do what they want without any credible coaching or guidance.  I’ve seen coaches work with compassion, commitment and focus with kids.

Finding the Human Element

Youth sports are filled with coaches of all abilities.  They are human like the rest of us, remember.  So, what do we want out of our coaches?  What do we think makes a coach that either we would like to be or, as parents, we want our kids to have?

As hard as it may be, I think the main trait in a youth coach is being as upfront as possible.  Whether you are in a younger learning type league or more advanced competitive league, be clear and precise.  The players and parents will know exactly where you stand and what your goals are.   That way, if you are coaching the five year old soccer league, you want to make sure that everyone knows that you are doing a lot of teaching during the season and not carrying on about winning.

Conversely, if you’re in a more competitive environment, make sure you let players know where they stand.  They might not like the fact that they are sitting the bench more than they are starting, but tell them what their role is and why.  If needed, let them know what they can do to get into the starting lineup.  But, again, be realistic.  If you know that a kid, no matter how hard they work, will not develop the skills needed to break into a starter’s role, don’t snow them by thinking that might be the case.  That might sting at first, but they will respect you for being straightforward with them.

Consistency is Key

The key ingredient here is to be consistent.  Staying the course and being consistent in your philosophy day in and day out is huge.  The kids, and their parents, will pick up quickly if you’re flip flopping goals on a weekly basis.  You will lose credibility and lose respect from your players, their parents, and perhaps your administration, as well.

Obviously, staying consistent with the big picture but also with the regulations and rules that you have set forth is important.  You do not want to have the “Jordan Rules” when it comes to players, especially when it comes to the more talented players on your team.  Again, this relates more to those youth coaches in a more competitive environment.  Staying true to your overall goals as well as the detailed rules of the team will go a long way in keeping the attention of your players.

Appreciation and Balance

As a parent, we appreciate the coach knowing the game they are coaching thoroughly.  However, what we do not appreciate is someone who really doesn’t want to be around kids.  If you love the game of baseball, for example, but really don’t get into having a bunch of ten year olds asking you a million questions about everything from techniques to what snack they’re getting after the game, then maybe you need to look for another way to get involved in the game.

Perhaps look at a different level to coach.  I’ve seen basketball coaches in an 8 and under developmental league trying to get so sophisticated with their drills that they lost sight of who they’re coaching. When you’re trying to coach the Phil Jackson triangle offense to kids who struggle to dribble, I think you may have some issues.

I love baseball, but do not want to coach any league under twelve or thirteen years of age.  It’s not where my strengths lie as a coach.  I am not going to attempt to do it and provide those kids with inadequate coaching because that is just not my strong suit as a teacher of the sport.

Enjoy the sport, but also enjoy the age group you are coaching.

Be an Educator

Teach, teach, teach.  That point cannot be emphasized enough.  I had a nephew who had two coaches.  One was a teacher on the field (this was baseball).  The other was the king of clichés and sarcasm.  He THOUGHT he was coaching but all he was doing was spewing out every coaching cliché in the dictionary.  When kids did something wrong, he was quick with a sarcastic put down and a cliché thrown in for good measure.

It may sound simplistic.  You’re the coach right, so you of course are teaching.  But actually get in there and teach, demonstrate and point out to kids how to do a skill the correct way.  As a coach, make sure you and your staff are constantly teaching.  As a parent, this is what we look for in a coach.  We are looking for someone to get our kids to improve as well as enjoy the game.

Coaching can be an unbelievably rewarding experience.  Using these simple steps can go a long way toward having that happen.

Written by Mike Mancini, coach, parent and website owner of “Athletic Training Now” specializing in youth sports, athletic skill development and sports training, where you can sign up for his Free newsletter and  pick up his Free Report on how to get your Sports Training off to a fast start.