By Scott Rosberg
Have you ever considered coaching before but not followed through on it? Why not? Not enough knowledge of the sport? Not enough understanding of dealing with groups of kids? Not enough time? These and other reasons probably keep many potentially good coaches from coaching. What a shame. Coaching is a very important part of any young person’s athletic experience. It is also an extremely rewarding and gratifying thing to do for kids. If you are at all inclined to coach, you need to think hard about doing it.
Today I want to talk about why you should coach and how to equip yourself with some of the tools you’ll need to get started. Let me first say that the type of coaching I am focused on in today’s column for the most part is the Youth Rec League type of coaching. While high school coaching may be a goal for some of you, I am focused here on the adult who is considering coaching because someone has asked her or him to do it and on the parent who is considering coaching because his or her kid is at that age now and is showing an interest in sports. Check any youth league game, and nine out of ten times, the coach has a kid on the team. It’s natural for parents to want to be involved in their kids’ extra-curricular activities, and coaching is one way for them to do that.
However, there are many parents who don’t have a background in their kid’s sport, so they don’t think they could coach it. That’s understandable, but quite honestly, that’s not nearly as important as you might think. The most important thing you need to be a coach is the desire to help kids have a positive experience. At the youth level, a coach’s sport-specific knowledge is highly overrated. No matter what level you coach, there are some things that are far more important than offense, defense, and strategy. That’s not to minimize the importance of kids learning sport-specific skills. It’s just that there are many other things that must come first before a kid learns the techniques of a sport.
Anyone interested in coaching youth sports should understand that possessing a limited amount of sport-specific knowledge does not mean that you are going to be a bad coach. There are many coaches out there that know a lot about their sport, yet they struggle to be good coaches. The problem is they can’t impart their knowledge of the sport to their players because they have poor communication skills, no patience, no discipline, little tolerance for failure, an intimidating personality, not enough of a personality, no enthusiasm, etc.
There are also some very good coaches out there with a limited understanding of the game that they are coaching, but they do a great job because they have a good philosophy, are in it for the kids, work well with kids, communicate well, establish policies and then stick to them, teach kids discipline and sportsmanship, make it an enjoyable experience for the kids while holding them accountable to standards, etc. That is what coaching is about much more than the X’s and O’s of the game. Any offense and any defense will work if executed properly. Helping kids have a fun experience and getting them to listen, work hard, be disciplined, and work together are much more important elements when determining the success level of a coach.
What does a new coach need to know and then impart to the players? The first thing a coach needs to do is figure out why he or she wants to coach. All kinds of reasons will present themselves like love of competing, wanting to help kids, or reliving one’s glory days. Most of the reasons are okay, as long you are honest with yourself. Some coaches say that they are in it for the kids’ development, but all they do is talk about themselves and their record and how if their kids would only listen and do what they said, they’d be winning. This behavior among coaches is a problem in youth athletics.
So figure out why you want to coach. If it truly is that you just want to help out these young kids, great! You are a captive audience ready to learn all that you can. If you are more into it for yourself, that’s okay, as long as you recognize it and then work to focus on the kids’ needs before your needs.
Once you have figured out why you want to coach, you should establish your own personal coaching philosophy. Don’t worry; this is nothing too elaborate. Your philosophy is basically what you feel are the important parts of athletic competition and also specifics to your sport. Writing down your philosophy helps to guide you through a season. It is a reminder of what your why is with regards to your sport. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.
It’s important to keep in mind key ideas like winning vs. development, discipline and sportsmanship, work ethic, and the importance of keeping it fun. These are the types of things that need to be addressed in anyone’s coaching philosophy. Sometimes elements of an individual coach’s philosophy have to take a back seat to a league philosophy. If the league you coach in feels that there should be a certain rule that you don’t have, then your philosophy is secondary with regards to that particular thing. This should not diminish your own philosophy in the least. Make sure you know the philosophies of the league you will be coaching in before you get started.
After you have figured out your philosophy, it’s time to figure out how you will impart your philosophy. This is a very large section to cover, too large to cover in one article. I do workshops and speak at coaching clinics on this topic. However, there are numerous sources out there to help new coaches learn about coaching. Books, videos, clinics, and friends who coach are a few resources you can use. A great book on coaching in general is called Successful Coaching by Rainer Martens. Teaching Character Through Sport by Bruce Brown is another outstanding book that gets at the heart of what coaching is all about. He also has a short booklet specifically for youth coaches called Youth Coaching: Four Keys to a Successful Season that I highly recommend, too. You can get Coach Brown’s books at the Proactive Coaching website - ProactiveCoaching.info. I, too, have written multiple books for coaches. You can find them at my website, SlamDunkSuccess.com.
There are numerous websites and videos out there to learn more about coaching in general and coaching in a specific sport. Just do a Google search on coaching and on coaching your sport, and you will find a wealth of information out there to help you.
Coaching clinics are another great way to learn some basics about coaching young people today, as well as some techniques to use as a coach. Clinics are great because there are always new things to learn in coaching. Also, there are other people in the same situation as you at these clinics, and it offers a chance to bounce ideas off of one another and learn from and with one another. In fact, I will be doing a coaching clinic this winter at the Civic Center prior to the youth basketball reg league getting started. While a portion of the clinic will be basketball-specific, the first part of it will be on general coaching concepts that can help coaches in any sport. I will get you more information as we get closer to the date for that clinic. You are also welcome to email me at email@example.com anytime if you have questions about coaching. I am more than happy to help in any way I can.
Ultimately, there are many resources out there to learn how to coach or learn more about coaching, and they are easy to find and easy to use. So, if you are considering becoming a coach, I say, “Go for it!” You are needed. But make sure that if you do decide to go for it, you take it seriously enough to study a bit and get some knowledge and understanding about how to coach and how to coach your specific sport. You’ll be glad you did, and so will the kids you coach.