For many young kids in today’s fast-paced, social media-driven world, the list of demands is neverending and overwhelming. Children need a place to blow off some steam! Youth coaches who understand the stressors of childhood and the important values that sports can instill are of vital importance. These tips for coaching youth sports will help you become a good coach and a valuable asset in the lives of the children you encounter.
Bonding With Your Family Through Adventure!
In most cases, when someone is coaching youth sports, it’s because they’re coaching one of their own kids or a family member’s kid. But that’s not the only place to spend quality time together! For some fun with your family off the sports field, check out Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition. It has over 50 family-friendly activities! This fun-filled book of engaging activities will get your family talking, laughing, and developing a better connection with each other in no time. Make some new memories today!
21 Tips for Coaching Youth Sports
To sum up youth sports… it’s all about the kids! It’s about learning physical skills, teamwork, leadership, and the value of hard work. Youth sports is not about head coaches winning accomplishments, the parents feeling proud, or the school winning distinguishment. It’s about the kids getting a valuable sports experience. Youth sports should begin and end with the molding of youth athletes. Period. These coaching tips will help you be the kind of coach the kids will enjoy and be eager to learn from.
1. Communicate before the season starts.
A good coach gives clear instructions but also listens to what players have to say. Coaches should attempt to build a positive relationship with their players as soon as possible. They should set expectations for the season ahead of time. Be honest about playing time, though the younger the players, the more equal the playing time should be, no matter the skill level. Lay out your play for games, practice with parents and the kids, and take time to answer any questions or concerns. Finally, set up a texting feed for the team in a group messaging app.
2. Set team rules and expectations.
Some good rules for your team are to treat teammates with respect, show sportsmanship at all times, stay out of trouble in school, be at practice, and keep good grades. Make sure to be upfront about the consequences of breaking the rules and be consistent with all athletes. That includes the star athlete, even if it might cost you the game. You can also have the kids participate in creating the team rules.
3. Develop clear communication with parents.
Good communication with parents will prevent a lot of problems! Parents want to know what’s expected of their kids and how they can help them succeed. Communicating practice times and game schedules in advance (and in writing) can help them with their busy schedule because, let’s face it, parents are busy. If for some reason you need to cancel your practice or a game is canceled, let the parents know as early as possible. If their kid is struggling, give feedback on what the parent can do to help them develop in a positive way.
4. Coach players, not just the team.
Take time to encourage and instruct individual players. Most successful teams are good because all their players understand the strategy and have proper skill development. The saying goes, “You’re only as good as your weakest link.” Not all players are equal in their skill level, and one of your main jobs is fostering inclusivity and developing them into the best they can be.
The star players who are already good are usually easier to coach. The players who need more help developing their skills are the challenge. Over my 15 years of coaching children, I have seen players who had less skill at first develop into great athletes. It just takes more patience. One of the most important qualities for any youth sports coach is patience. When coaching young athletes, it can be frustrating when kids don’t listen or don’t seem to be trying their best. A good coach understands that this is all part of the learning process.
5. Challenge your players to push themselves.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”― Theodore Roosevelt
In every practice, game, or match, challenge your players to do their best no matter what. One of the hardest parts of coaching is developing a good work ethic when times are tough. Whether you’re having a hot practice day, they’re just not having a good day, or a game isn’t going well, teach athletes to still give their all! Hopefully, in instilling this, you can help them develop hard work as a life skill.
6. Encourage, encourage, and encourage some more.
Know that you are not only a coach but also a mentor, and your players will look up to you. Try to give kids positive reinforcement as much as possible. We’ve all had or seen a coach who yelled negative things at their players constantly. Nobody likes that.
A motto I was taught as a beginner coach was to give positive feedback each time you need to give negative. Your players will respond better and have more respect for you, which usually means they will listen better and try harder. The more consistent you are about pointing out the good things, the higher your player’s self-confidence will be.
7. Own up to your mistakes.
We all make mistakes—no one is perfect. You will make the wrong call that costs the game, not give proper playing time, yell, or be too harsh on the players from time to time. Swallow your pride, and apologize if you make a mistake. Your players will have more respect for you if you do.
8. Remember that players can have opinions, too.
It’s important to listen to your player’s ideas, frustrations, and conflicts. Some of the best plays I have called came from a player who saw something that might work and felt free to express it. A positive relationship between player and coach is one where both feel they are being heard. Encourage players to come talk to you if they have questions. They should not live in fear of your anger should they choose to speak up.
9. Don’t ignore team chemistry.
The ancient Greek storyteller Aesop says, “United we stand, divided we fall.” This is ever true in all aspects of life. A team that can’t get along is a team that can easily be beaten. I have coached against teams that were far more skilled than mine, but we won because we played as a team. It’s important to build positive team chemistry with and between your kids. You may consider having some team outings that don’t revolve around practice. That way, the kids and parents can bond outside of the intensity of the sport.
10. Keep in mind that coaching is more than sport.
The most important thing about coaching is helping young people learn life lessons. Learning good work ethic and getting along with teammates, coaches, and referees, no matter the situation, can be carried into adult life. Being able to handle victory and failure with grace are important life lessons that sports teach, as well. Working with people they don’t like, taking on big challenges as a team, and respecting authority will put them ahead in their future workplace.
11. Model respect.
It’s hard to ask your players to act in a respectful way towards refs, opponents, parents, and players if you don’t do the same. Young athletes will imitate how you communicate with others, so it’s important to control your temper. Try to remain calm and communicate respectfully, and your team will follow your example. Remember that you are a role model to the kids whether you want to be or not.
12. Have fun while working hard.
The ultimate secret to being a great coach is remembering that youth sports are about having fun. A good youth sports coach is engaging and enjoyable to work with. No one likes a grumpy coach. The athletes are still children, and they need a coach who can make them smile while learning new skills. Children learn best with play, so coaches should re-frame practice and drills as a way for athletes to play. That’s not to say that coaching kids should be a free-for-all. Of course, structure is essential for athlete development. However, you should allow athletes to be playful within the confines of your practice.
13. Be teachable.
Just because you’re the head coach doesn’t mean you know it all. Watch videos, talk strategy with your assistant coach, and go to coaching clinics to learn new ways of teaching skills, drills, and fun games. Study other teams, learn what works for them, and try to adapt it to your team. Like all areas in life, never stop learning and trying to improve yourself. A great youth sports coach knows when to ask for help, whether it’s with a specific drill, practice plan, or additional equipment. Parents and even the kids can also be valuable teachers.
14. Put kids’ safety first.
Coaches need to help the athletes and parents understand the potential dangers that come with playing sports and take steps to ensure that their players are safe. Ensure that athletes are hydrating sufficiently, warming up and cooling down properly, and avoiding unnecessary risks. Coaches should also be familiar with the symptoms of concussions and other common injuries so they know what to do and how to seek medical attention if necessary.
15. Acknowledge that losing isn’t fun.
It’s just a fact that losing isn’t fun, but don’t make it worse for your players by getting mad at them for a loss. Instead, helping them learn, grow, and come back stronger next time is far more important. This is such a valuable lesson to teach young athletes. In life, you’re not always going to win. You may not get the job you wanted, a business you started may fail, or you could get rejected by a love interest. Learning to handle defeat in a positive way during childhood leads to more stable mental health in adulthood.
16. Don’t beat yourself up for wanting to win.
The main point of sports competition is trying to win the game or match. Just don’t sacrifice the kids to do it. As kids age, better players will get more playing time in order to win. That’s part of the game and the learning experience. Some will strive harder as a result. Others will leave and find an extracurricular activity that is better adapted to their skills. That’s the natural progression. Just make sure to keep in mind players’ safety and mental health during games. It’s all about maintaining a balance.
17. Focus on getting better.
If your player doesn’t end the season better, then you haven’t done your job as a coach. It’s your job to help them grow (unless the athlete is not willing). Whether they are the best player on the team or the worst, they should all grow as athletes and people. Their fundamentals should be better, and their knowledge of the sport should be enhanced at the end of the season. Rejoice in the small victories in each practice, in each game. Build upon them, and they will grow into bigger victories.
18. Don’t try to please everyone.
Everyone has an opinion on how good an athlete they are. And every parent has an opinion on how good their kid is. Sometimes their opinions are… not the same as yours (delusional, perhaps?). Be honest and positive when communicating what is best for the kid. You will have frustrations and arguments during a season. Approach them with kindness and understanding.
19. Keep things simple.
There are many variables in every sport, and it’s easy as an adult to get excited and pile on more than your kiddos are ready for. Don’t get overly complex. The more time your athletes spend thinking about plays and strategy, the less time they can focus on understanding the actual game. Six-time Super Bowl winner Coach Bill Belichick accomplishes this by telling his players to simply “do your job.” This means staying in the moment and focusing on your duty instead of getting side-tracked by all the other variables or teammates’ jobs.
Focus on proper form and positioning, a basic understanding of game rules and strategy, and awareness. Older athletes have the advantage of muscle memory to fall back on, but younger athletes are starting from scratch. While they’re still honing their skills and learning how the game and their bodies work, keep the rest simple!
20. Adjust your coaching style.
Some athletes seem to be born with unshakeable confidence. Others wilt under the slightest criticism. One of the most important skills for a coach to develop is the ability to adjust their coaching style to match each athlete. Applying a one-size-fits-all coaching style isn’t going to bring out the best in all of your athletes. Great coaches should coach based on personality, skill level, and understanding. This doesn’t mean playing favorites or showing partiality. It just means that you analyze your kids and adjust your game plan based on their personality and learning style.
21. Be organized.
Making a practice plan keeps everything flowing and prevents boredom, which could lead to acting out. You don’t have to completely stick with the plan. If things aren’t going well, slow down, and adjust the plan. An organized and well-developed plan will make practice more enjoyable for everyone. Parents and players will appreciate your effort more if they feel you’re organized and not just winging it with no forethought.
Whether you’re a head coach of a school team or a volunteer coach for a peewee league, leading 6-year-olds or high school seniors, these tips for coaching youth sports can help you be a better mentor. Focusing on the athlete’s experience and needs is the most important thing in youth sports. Your players should leave you a better player and person when the season ends. Remember most of these kids will never play sports past high school, but they will carry the lessons they learn throughout their lives. You’re a role model, so engage in positive coaching.
Need a fun icebreaker? Ask a few questions from “The Ultimate List of Would You Rather Questions for Kids” to get to know your players better before practices!
You’ll have every kind of child on your team, from profoundly confident to deeply codependent. Take some clues from “Empowering Children to Be More Independent” to help guide your actions.