Coaching youth sports
Tips for coaching a youth sports team
This lens is intended for parents who want to coach their children's sports teams. Being well prepared is the key. There are a few important points to keep in mind that will make the experience more enjoyable and rewarding for yourself and the kids, and help you avoid the mistakes that can cause headaches.
Setting the standard
The first thing you need to do is establish your ground rules with team members and parents right from the start. It's best to have a meeting with parents after the first practice and go over a code of conduct for parents and players. This should include a brief summary of your coaching philosphy and contact information, including notice to be given if players are unable to attend a game or practice. Also it's the best time to spell out the behaviour expected from players regarding sportsmanship, respect for team mates, respect for officials and opponents, and any other rules you wish to set, as well as consequences if these expectations are not met. The beginning of the season is the best time to set a standard and make everyone aware of expectations. You don't have to be a drill sargeant, but be firm and factual, this can save you a lot of grief down the road.
Always be professional in your conduct, you set the standard for the team. If you're late, unprepared, or behave in an unprofessional manner, the kids will pick up on this and you will sow the seeds of disciplinary problems with your team.
Running good practices is vital to the success of your team. In many sports the amount of time a player has direct control of the ball or puck during a game is very limited, whereas in practice you have the opportunity to spend the time necessary to learn and perfect new skills. Here are some tips on running practices :
i) Make sure your team has a thorough warm up before performing any high intensity activity. By warming up properly, you'll reduce injuries, and improve flexibility and mental focus.
ii) Repetition is the key to developing and refining any motor skill. Don't be afraid to practice a particular skill over and over and over until your players reach the level of proficiency you're looking for. At the same time, in any individual practice, if you get the sense your players are getting tired and losing concentration, it's time to move on ot a different skill and give them a mental break.
iii) Keep everyone moving as much as possible. Boredom and discipline issues can result if players are left standing around for too long. Try to keep everyone involved and active during the practice. Keeping a high, consistent level of activity during practice will also improve your team's conditioning.
iv) Try to incorporate games into your drills as much as possible. Kids will have more fun and be willing to work hard if you can add an element of competition to your drills.
During the game
It all comes down to you. Players take their cue from the coach, even in subtle ways. It's important that you project an air of quiet confidence, control and resilience on the bench during games. Key points to remember:
i) Keep your emotions in control. No yelling at referees or players, throwing things etc. You always want to be professional and above reproach in your conduct. If you have a serious concern over the officiating, try to speak with them in a calm, matter of fact, non-emotional manner. If you have a problem with a player, same thing. If you lose your cool, players will be prone to do so as well and the situation can degenerate into chaos.
ii) Try to keep playing time as equal as possible. Remeber you're dealing with kids, 99.9% of whom will not go on to play professionally. Sports is and should be fun for all. If you want to play your best players at the critical times in a game, try to let the others play at times that are less critical, such as during a blow out win or loss.
iii) Encourage respect for the opposition and a spirit of fair play.
iv) Don't get too high after a win or too low after a loss. If you play or coach sports long enough, you'll have plenty of each. Try to keep an even keel.
After the season
When the season is over, it's a good idea to get together and recognize the contributions of each of the players, their parents, and the assitant coaches and trainers.
Whether your team has had a successful season or not, you can foster a feeling of success and achievement. With my son's soccer team a few years ago, we bought ribbons and made up certificates for each of the players, awarding them on the basis of that child's best skill. One kid got a certificate for being the best passer, another for being the best dribbler, one was the best shooter etc. Each kid received a certificate and was able to feel that he was the best on the team at some element of the game.
Be sure to thank the parents for their contributions in getting the kids to the field on time, and especially recognize and thank anyone who has volunteerd their time for the team, be they assistant coaches, trainers, managers etc.
Coaching a youth sports team is a big responsibility, but can be an extremely rewarding experience. Without coaching volunteers, youth sports wouldn't exist. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who volunteers their time and effort to coach kids and teach them the important lessons of sports and life.
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