Being a youth sports coach is a rewarding experience. When young athletes participate in sports, they may be excited to win a championship, or they might be scared to even play the game. As the coach, you get to determine the kind of season you and your team have, and how the athletes’ experiences are with the game and the year.
From the first day of practice to the last game, the coach’s job is to help the kids learn and improve while having fun and being competitive. While there are many different coaching styles for youth sports, there are some universal guidelines to making the season great for the kids. Here are some key do’s and don’ts of coaching youth sports.
Do: Provide Constructive Feedback
Athletes at all levels have the opportunity to grow and develop during the course of a season. Coaching youth sports is all about finding opportunities to provide feedback that promotes growth and learning. There are a variety of ways to offer feedback and effective coaching. Global feedback to an entire team is a great way to address overarching opportunities for development, while individual coaching can provide athletes with personal attention and opportunities to focus on their specific skills.
When you provide feedback, be sure to frame it in an encouraging way that points toward learning and improvement. Do not solely focus on the errors or the negatives, but use those as opportunities to improve in the game.
Don’t: Focus on the Negative
On the flip side, feedback that discourages athletes can be detrimental to both the immediate season and the long-term success and attitude of the athlete. Errors are natural and bound to happen over the course of a season, and they can make good examples of how athletes can improve.
Another effective coaching technique when providing feedback is to work with the athletes even before they make errors, or when they show success. By constantly focusing on the negative and improving when an athlete gets something wrong, you are reinforcing the emotions that come with making mistakes, even if inadvertently.
Coaching youth sports is all about motivation. Consider why your athletes are playing this season. What are their goals, as individuals and as a team? Encourage these goals throughout the season, and motivate your players and team to achieve (and exceed!) those goals. Coaches are leaders, not bosses. Be the guide and set a positive example by motivating your athletes. When your team feels encouraged and challenged, they will want to work that much harder to push to the finish line.
With motivation can often come intimidation. It can be easy as a coach to become frustrated with your athletes and want to use that anger to motivate them. However, intimidating your athletes is not effective or healthy. There are plenty of ways to motivate your athletes that don’t include aggressive yelling or intimidation. It’s good to push your athletes and encourage greatness beyond what they believe they can do, but be sure to keep the environment healthy and encouraging.
Do: Promote Winning
Everyone likes winning. As a youth sports coach, you likely know that your athletes want to win, and it is your job to lead them to victory every game. Athletes who experience the reward of a win find more motivation, confidence and encouragement. Promoting winning as a coach is a good thing, so long as it is not the only thing. While winning is fun and rewarding, remember to promote development, socialization and enjoyment of the game as well.
Don’t: Prioritize Winning
When winning becomes the most important thing, over your athletes’ enjoyment, growth, development and socialization, then your team will suffer in all aspects. It can be a tricky balance, and one that makes effective coaching hard and rewarding. Encourage winning without sacrificing everything else that is good about the sport and the game. Remember that these athletes are children, and they are here to have fun, be active and meet friends.
Do: Make the Game Fun; Don’t: Lose Sight of the Important Stuff
At the end of the day, regardless of your coaching style or team’s record, you are coaching a sport. For these youth athletes, the sport should be made fun. Coaching youth sports means being a leader, a guide, a teammate and a coach, all in one. Find ways to make even the dull practices interesting and exciting for kids, and encourage them to try new things and push themselves while still enjoying the game they’re playing.
Keep the important stuff at the forefront of your mind when coaching. Is winning this game, whether it’s the first of the season or the championship game, going to drastically change your life? Or even the athletes’ lives, for that matter? Is showing up late to practice worth an outburst or an extra lap? Youth sports are meant to encourage discipline, yes, but remember to keep an eye on what matters most. Focus on what you can control, and encourage the athletes to do the same. When little things cloud our judgment, we can quickly lose sight of what matters and why we’re here in the first place.
Do: Coach Yourself
Just as the athletes can always improve, so too can the coaches. Keep your own performance and coaching style in check after every practice and game. Evaluate yourself and speak with your assistant coaches to learn how to improve next time. Keep the athletes as the main focus of the season, and work together to give them the experience they deserve.
Trusted Coaches is a Minnesota-based organization dedicated to making youth sports fun, friendly and accessible to all, athletes and coaches alike. Make this season your best one yet with our classes and resources designed to help you be a safe, effective and encouraging coach.