It’s wild how often we fail to empathize with persons we should so readily be able to identify with. In the world of coaching youth sports, we adults often forget what it’s like to be a kid. Even though, like our students, adults spend most of our day locked in a prison like facility, being barked at by our superiors while we follow directives that may make little sense.
Kids come to practice wound up after being held captive for hours – aren’t we adults wound up after being mind numbingly sedentary in our work environment?
We show up at practice and the kids are out of control, is it because –
A) These kids just don’t comprehend the value of the skills you are imparting to them?
B) These kids have terrible parents who have no discipline and therefore have low thresholds for paying attention or valuing your unpaid investment in their futures?
C) The education system is failing these kids because…Obama or Bush or whomever you like to blame for our nations current conditions?
D) Your practice is boring…
Coaching kids is no easy assignment. But if you passed the rigorous requirements of being the only one brave enough to volunteer, you have committed yourself to doing your best with what you have to help these kids learn and enjoy the sport.
For every youth sport team there are 1) the kids that want to be there, 2) the kids that have a mild interest, and 3) the kids that their parents just signed him up for something to get them out of the house. Regardless of where they are coming from it’s your job as the coach to find creative ways to engage them to commit in some level to the team. Unfortunately the same approach won’t work for all kids.
A few tips we have learned through years of experience coaching youth of all ages and skills:
1) Get as much help as you can.
Draft other parents to assist with practice or even components in practice. Enlist their help and give them assignments, especially if they are vocal at games about what is going wrong. “Thank you for your passion and input, since you know so much about this sport why don’t you come and assist.”
Empower your stars to assist in teaching their teammates core skills.
Often kids that are the most challenging need to be challenged, give them opportunities to assist you with the team.
As you solicit assistants, keep control by giving helpers specific assignments or areas of oversight.
The kid has a mild interest your goal here is primarily to make it fun especially at the younger ages then they can fall in love with the sport or activity and see the value in what you are trying to do. These kids for the most part if you can show them how to win or score they will engage more fully in the process. Often you can make a challenge to get them engaged.
2) Have a plan.
Reading accounts from successful coaches they all come to practice prepared to maximize the time and efforts of all involved. We like to break our practices into 10 minute segments so that practice is structured and keeps a tempo.
When you have a plan as a coach you are mentally organized, you can enable people to assist you and the kids will better respond to the structure (See more on constructing a practice plan in our Dyojo Article – Yes, Practice).
An important aspect of the plan is to mix the fun of tea sport with the skills of the sport. As a youth coach your goal is to make the memory of your sport a good one, to progressively teach your team core skills (they won’t get them all at once) and to be a physical outlet for kids. If the kids are having fun and learning something, you are doing your job right.
3) Remember to have fun.
In most sports kids need to be fit enough to play, which usually involves running, find creative ways to get their lungs burning. For basketball and soccer, a simple running drill is to have two players on the line, throw a ball as far as you can and have them scrimmage 1 v 1 back to the starting point. Running + skills + competition = good drill.
For those kids that mom and dad just dropped them off and they want nothing to do with your activity, you are fighting an uphill battle. Find a means to challenge them to engage – for example some kids respond to pointing out that another kid is better than them and you want them to see if they can beat the one who is excelling. Some kids respond to challenges related to certain benchmarks, determine if you can help them set achievable goals that will boost their confidence in the sport. At some point if the kid is just relentless and will not listen you need to engage the support of the parents and or your activities supervisor because having them in that environment isn’t fair to you as a volunteer to the other kids who are working hard. This should be a last resort, not your first option.
Coaching, like many things in life, can be fun or frustrating. Much of your experience has to do with your perspective and how you approach the challenge. Start by setting aside some time to prepare yourself, get your bearings and stick to the plan. Get yourself some help and try to have fun. Remember that these kids, much like you, have been penned in for most of the day, your time at practice is an opportunity to get some of those physical and mental frustrations worked out in through a positive medium.
At the end of the season if each kid had fun and made some progress in their skills, your efforts were successful. Good job coach.
If you are an adult looking to burn off some steam from work or coaching, check out our article on adding competition to your fitness routine.
Thoughts on personal and professional development.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a contractor, author, and host of The DYOJO Podcast. The goal of The DYOJO is to help growth-minded restoration professionals shorten their DANG learning curve for personal and professional development. You can watch The DYOJO Podcast on YouTube on Thursdays or listen on your favorite podcast platform.