In most of life’s situations, it’s fairly easy to see what we SHOULD have done…….
after we’ve already messed up.
When it comes to the trial and error nature of parenting, we find plenty of situations where we don’t really figure out how the heck to do something……
until it’s no longer necessary to do it.
Such is the nature of coaching in youth sports.
Three short months ago, I watched my daughter drive away to college four hours away. I felt like the dad in the Subaru commercial talking to his little girl in the driver’s seat.
I choked back tears as I gave her simple parting instructions, knowing that I would no longer be a powerful daily influence in her life. What kind of influences would she have in her life in college?
Today her mother and I watched her final soccer game of the season. On a cold, rainy day in Circleville, Ohio, after a hard-fought loss we parted ways once again with her mother choking back tears this time.
Macy had a long bus ride back to Knoxville ahead for her. And we would have loved to have her home with us for the weekend. But these were tears of joy (mostly).
Macy and her coaches had stopped by our car to chat after the game. Smiles and laughter masked the exhaustion of a 90 minute game. A great player/coach relationship was easy to see. Mutual respect. Comfort, not fear.
They walked away in the cold rain. One of her coaches put his hand on her shoulder, just like dads do to their daughters after tough losses. My wife, through teary eyes, just said, “look, Karrick.”
I know who influences my daughter.
Macy loves her coaches. She loves her teammates. It’s plain to see. It’s a blessing that we’re so thankful for.
If you are a parent of a kid involved in youth sports, it doesn’t matter if they’re 7 or if they’re 17, don’t underestimate the value of having a coach that your child loves and respects. And don’t ignore the treasure of having a coach that treats your kids with love and respect.
Macy isn’t exactly a kid anymore and this is college soccer I’m talking about. But it’s an experience that is either going to be good or bad, depending on the direction of the leadership. They won 2 games and it was as enjoyable as any other “successful” winning seasons she’s had at other levels.
If you’re a coach, whether it’s your first try at pee wee soccer or your tenth year of middle school basketball, don’t forget why you’re there.
Coaches are there to lead, to influence kids. Winning is a by-product of leading the right way and teaching the right things.
Every team that you coach isn’t going to possess enough talent to win in a given season, but every team you coach is made up of kids that are going to be adults someday.
Win or lose, what are you teaching them along the way?
1) Plan practices well. Give clear instructions. Be consistent. Build credibility.
2) You are under a microscope. Do and say the right thing….always. Apologize when you’re wrong. Be a positive influence…..always.
3) Don’t “over-coach”. Make sure your spoken words have value to your players. If you talk too much, players quit listening.
4) Make sure your players know you care about them. If they think you don’t care about them, they quit listening.
5) Teach them the value of giving maximum effort, every practice, every game.
6) Look into the future. Be bold enough to make decisions based on building character and teaching fundamentals, work ethic, teambuilding, and accountability. See the bigger picture and don’t cave in to outside pressure to “win now”.
7) Keep all players engaged in practice at all times. All players should have equal opportunity for improvement in practice. What they choose to do with those opportunities may determine how many game minutes they get (depending on age and competition level). “If you don’t like where you’re at, do something about it.”
8) Motivate! Great coaches keep their players excited about playing. They encourage. Their players love and respect them. They don’t fear them. They want to do well for these coaches. Be intentional each day to catch your players doing something right and praise them for it. Tasks not done well are teaching moments, not shaming moments (see 9).
9) Mistakes happen. Kids can’t play in fear of their coach and they can’t play in fear of making mistakes. Not giving a maximum effort or listening to the coach is not a mistake, it’s a choice.
10) It’s ok to yell. It’s not ok to yell AT kids. Speak loud enough to get a team’s attention. Don’t scare the life out of them (especially younger ones). Never single out a kid and go Bobby Knight on them.
It’s nice to learn from your own past mistakes. It may be even better to learn from simply watching somebody else doing it right. Keep your eyes open.
I’ve coached plenty of games in the past, but I’m not presently coaching anything. If given the opportunity again, I’ll welcome the chance to LEAD more and coach less.