For winning, that is. The one aspect of youth sports over which you have the LEAST control, it turns out, also happens to be the least important part of coaching youth. In fact, a study conducted by Michigan State found that 90% of kids said they would prefer to actually get playing time on a losing team than warm the bench on a winning team. So that begs the question – in youth sports, what does it mean to be a successful coach? If winning isn’t the most important thing, what is?
Put simply, good coaching skills can build a healthy foundation for sports, and for older youth, works to enrich and strengthen (or sometimes fix!) an already existing attitude about sport. Below we’ve outlined 5 behaviors of a good coach and simple steps to implement those behaviors into your own coaching style.
1. Puts health and safety of athlete above all else.
An athlete’s primary tool is their body. Keeping it healthy and safe is paramount to their success and enjoyment in sport.
- Get trained in CPR and first-aid, and always have a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand. First-aid Kit Checklist
- Learn about injury prevention, and strategize your roster’s playing time so that your athletes can continue to enjoy sport well into adulthood. STOP Sports Injuries is a website which focuses solely on this issue.
- As is age appropriate, openly discuss supplements and performance-enhancing drugs. NEVER encourage an athlete to take drugs, and if they are interested in over-the-counter supplements, suggest they consult their physician.
- Remind athletes of proper nutrition and hydration. Suggest what kinds of snacks would be ideal for game day and work with the Team Parent to ensure all group snacks are healthy.
2. Models good sportsmanship
I recently watched an episode of Magnum P.I., where TC is the coach of a youth baseball team. At one point two opposing players get into a scuffle on the field. TC and the other coach pull the boys apart, explain to them why fighting is not okay, make them shake hands and remove them from the game – ultimately to go sit with each other and watch the rest of the game. In competitive sports, bouts of poor sportsmanship are inevitable, but how you as a coach handle these situations will greatly influence the youth’s feelings about why sportsmanship is important.
- Encourage athletes to play fair, and do NOT encourage cheating.
- Engage in respectful (no yelling, cursing, or name calling) discussions with officials when you disagree with their call.
3. Holds parents accountable for their behavior
I can’t begin to tell you how many parents I have witnessed at youth sporting events behaving terribly. Beyond causing a disruption in the game, it is often humiliating for the youth athlete. In fact, from the same Michigan State study previously mentioned, 37% of kids said they wished their parents wouldn’t watch their games.
- Make clear your expectations that parents will not belittle athletes OR officials.
- Remind parents that you are the coach. Invite them to discuss matters with you privately, but not in front of the team or during games.
- Try to host a pre-season meeting with the parents and youth, where you communicate your coaching philosophy and your expectations of the athletes and their parents. Consider having parents sign a “Parent Conduct Agreement.”
4. Teaches the fundamentals of the game
This seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? I remember when I was about eight years old, I was running to second base during a softball game. Because our helmets were too big and often flew off our heads as we ran, I put my hand on my helmet to secure it. I was called out by the umpire, because apparently holding on to my helmet was against the rules! My coach had been unaware of this particular league’s rule.
- Become familiar with each league’s rules. Explain these rules to your team.
- No matter what sport you’re coaching, a simple online search for tips on how to teach certain skills will bring up many helpful websites designed to enhance your coaching ability. Do your research to challenge yourself and your team.
5. Encourages the team to have fun
- Congratulate their successes.
- Treat all athletes equally, whether they are the strongest player on the team or someone who is excellent at cheering for their team.
- For out-of-school sports, practices are often in the evenings, perhaps after you’ve had a long day at work. Try to go into the practice with a fresh mindset. Kids really look forward to this time to play and grow as a team.
- Remind your team that the fun parts of sports (bonding with teammates, learning new skills, exercising, etc.) are the key elements of sport. The goal of playing is not just to win, but especially to grow as an athlete and person.