When it comes to coaching youth sports, everyone has their own ideas on what is important.
Some say it’s teaching the kids the fundamentals. Others say it’s about letting the kids have fun. Some say it’s about teaching sportsmanship while others say discipline. And, of course, there are those who say it’s about winning.
I grew up playing youth sports so have a little background on what a kid wants from his or her experience. And I have coached youth sports so think I know some of the things it takes to be succesful at it through trial and error.
With this in mind here are 10 tips for coaching youth sports that I think are helpful to anyone who is thinking about doing it or already is. I listed them in a certain way in order to build on each one and tie them together.
1. Be Committed
Coaching youth sports takes a lot of physical and mental energy and is very time consuming. In order to do it properly a coach must be totally committed to it. Whether it be practice, games or the off field administrative work that needs to be done.
A coach has to be on time. A coach has to give every ounce of their energy during practice and games. A coach has to keep up with all of the administrative things in order to keep their players and parents up to date on everything. And a coach must be able to gauge the mood of his players and the parents.
None of this can be done without commitment. If a coach is not committed to the task than they are cheating everyone involved.
The best examples of this commitment that I’ve seen are my first youth football coach and my senior league baseball coach. My youth football coach, Mr. Schmidt, was my best friend Bruce’s father. He was also the administrator of football for the whole club my first year. I saw this man coach us then come home and do all of the administrative work for every team in the club. On Saturday’s we had to be the first ones at the field so that we could get it ready for play then the last ones to leave after we cleaned everything up. Then we had to hand out uniforms and collect them at the end of the year. All because we were with the football administrator. Now if this man wasn’t committeed than no one was.
My baseball coach Mr. Estep was just as committed. Like Mr. Schmidt he handled all of the administrative things. He went about getting field permits for us to play and practice. And Mr. Estep picked up every kid who needed a ride to practices and games in his baby blue Ford pickup truck. He even went out of his way once to stop a little league game that he was coaching in order to show the other teams third baseman how to field a ground ball. How many coaches would do that?
In all of the years that I played for Mr. Estep I remember him missing one game, because of a convention. His wife coached us that day. Now if that’s not commitment than I don’t know what is.
2. Teach The Kids The Game
The goal for teaching kids in youth sports from a fundamental standpoint is to have them be better at the end of the season than they are at the beginning. The only way to do this is to teach them how to play the game. Start with the fundamentals first. Teach them how to run, kick, throw catch, hit, tackle, shoot or whatever. Some will pick these things up faster than others, but make sure that everyone gets the basics of how to do each skill.
When I coached football in high school we had players with enough talent to be recruited by major universities. Our head coach still started out every season with the fundamentals. If he could do that with high school all- stars than a youth coach can, and should, do it with his kids.
It is only after you go over the fundamentals that you begin to give players positions and teach them plays. Because without the basic fundamentals a kid will never reach their full athletic ability.
3. Teach Sportsmanship
A coach who does not teach sportsmanship to their players has failed. Sportsmanship is that important.
I didn’t think this when I was a kid. My elementary school phys ed teacher Mr. Richardson always stressed sportsmanship, but I didn’t listen. All that I wanted to do is win. But winning means nothing without good sportsmanship.
Good sportsmanship does not mean that you don’t try to win. It means that you give everything that you have. Do the best that you can. But do it within the rules and with respect towards your teammates, coaches, the opponent and the officials. When players and coaches show good sportsmanship it makes everyhting else about coaching much easier. And much more fun.
4. Remember That You Are Dealing With Kids
Kids don’t know it all even though they may think that they do. They are far from perfect and far less talented than the pros. Sometimes, we as coaches forget this.
I remember losing a little league game and saying that my kids played dumb baseball. My father heard me and said, “They’re not dumb. They’re just kids.” And he was right.
Kids play sports not, because they want to be the next Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant or Albert Pujols. They play sports, because their friends play it and they want to spend time with them. Sure, they will play hard, but some days you are just not going to get their full attention for many reasons. Same as with adults. When this happens, don’t treat them as you would an adult. Treat them as if they were your own child and help them through it. Whatever may be the reason for them not playing well if you give them time they will snap out of it. And they will be more inclined to listen and respect you when you tell them to do something later.
Kids do not see the world the same way as adults. Always remember that.
5. Set Team Rules And Adhere To Them
A coach has to set rules and guidelines from the first day of practice than stick to them. Sure, sometimes you may have to make exceptions. But do not do something for one player that you would not do for another.
And as a coach you have to adhere to the rules also. You have to be on time. You have to coach by the rules. You have to show good sportsmanship. All of this goes into setting a good example for the kids.
By setting rules and adhering to them you also teach kids valuable lessons that they can take into later life. Setting rules gives them structure. There are those who say that youth sports should not be too structured. I say that youth sports should not be too disciplined. Kids want structure. They want guidelines to follow. As a coach if you give them rules and stick to them than there is less chance that you have to discipline them. They will fall into line if they want to play.
6. Keep Parents Involved But Let Them Know That You Are The Coach
This one is kind of tricky. Dealing with parents was the hardest thing that I had to do in coaching. Everyone has their own idea on how a team should be coached and parents are no different. Most of the parents that I dealt with were very nice, appreciative, helpful and thankful. Bu there always seemed to be one or two that always thought that they could do a better job.
The way that I figured out how to handle parents was simple. Let them know up front that you appreciate their input, but you are the coach and along with your assistants have the final say on how things are going to be run. If they want it done differently than they should volunteer to coach the team themselves. If they cannot do this than they have to either accept what you say or put their kid on another team.
I have been around youth sports for over thirty years. I have never seen a youth sports league complain about having too many people apply as coaches. If anything they complain about not having enough. That’s because most people do not want to do it. They want to do all of the game day work, but none of the practices or administrative stuff. And, because all that they see is what happens when they come to a game they make the assumption that they know what’s going on with the team.
This is why I say let the parents know up front that you are the coach. And let them know that if they want to coach the team than they are more than welcomed to volunteer. They may not like this. You can’t please everyone. But at least everyone knows where they stand.
7.Know The Rules Of The Game
A coach has to know the rules of the game. The only way to do this is by reading the rule book and learning it. As an official of youth sports I have done enough games to know that almost every coach does not know the rules. For many reasons. Some, because they don’t read the rulebook. Others because they just don’t have the time to read the rulebook. And others, because they apply rules from the higher levels to the youth level.
Some of these reasons are valid. Not everyone has the time to learn all of the rules. But if you are a coach than it is an obligation to learn the rules. This goes hand in hand with number one. Commitment. Knowing the rules shows that you are committed to the task of coaching.
Knowing the rules also includes the eligiblity of players. Who can play and who can’t. How much playing time each player must be allowed to play. How many players can be on the team. What are the regional boundaries where you can draw players from. All of this is important, because it keeps the coach out of trouble and shows everyone that he has the kids best interests at heart.
8. Respect The Officials
A coach must set a good example for everyone by respecting the officials. Even when they are bad. Officials make mistakes. They have good days and bad. Most officials are good at what they do and unbiased. I have never worked with a biased official in my life.
That doesn’t mean that they are perfect. Far from it. But most of them try to do their very best to keep the game clean and fair. And many of them work more than one game in sports like football, basketball and soccer. It is impossible to be sharp mentally for four or five hours non stop. A referee is going to miss one here or there. Just as players and coaches do.
In all of my years as I coach, I never yelled at an umpire. I may not have agreed with their call, but never yelled at them. And I wouldn’t let anyone else either. It’s wrong. A coach can tell an official that they don’t agree with a call. They can even ask them to explain the call if they disagree with it. But a coach should never yell at a referee. It sends a bad message to the kids.
As long as a referee hustles, looks out for the safety of the kids and shows respect for the game a coach has to give them the benefit of the doubt. And show them respect.
Because the kids and parents will be paying attention and they will take their cue on how to act towards the officials from their coach.
9. Play The Games To Play Them Not To Win Them
The late Florida A&M football coach Alonzo Smith “Jake” Gaither came up with this saying: “What it means is that you go into a game to play it. Nothing else.”
You practice in order for the kids to play the game the right way. You practice so that your team can get their timing down so that they are ready to play. You practice in order for your kids to learn skills and teamwork. You play the games so that they can kind find out what they’ve learned. You play the games in order to teach them sportsmanship. You play the games so that the kids can find out how good they are.
If you follow these simple steps and the kids are talented enough than the winning will take care of itself.
And all you have to do is let the kids play the game.
10. Have Fun
Above all else sports at all levels should be fun. For everyone. Players, coaches, parents, fans. Even the officials.
Youth sports should be about having fun. As mentioned earlier kids don’t play youth sports in order to become pros. They play them, because their friends do. And they want to have fun.
So keep it light. Let them know that you are there to have fun too. Laugh with them. Joke with them. Make practice fun by changing things up from time to time. Find out a little something about them. Show some interest in other things about their life other than the game that you are involved with.
In other words show them that you care.
The easiest way to make it fun is to follow the nine previous steps above from commitment to just playing the games. If you do this you will find coaching youth sports to be one of the most rewarding things one could ever do.
And win or lose you will form bonds with people that will last long after the final game is played.