What to say on the first day of practice

One hour until the first practice of the year.

For the next 3 months, you are going to see these athletes 5 days a week for a few hours.

59 minutes until they arrive…what should you say?

You know first impressions matter. You want them to respect you. You want them to trust you. You want them to want to come to practice and give everything they have.

Doubt creeps in, bringing along questions you know are ridiculous, but you entertain them anyway.

  • What if they don’t take me seriously?

  • What if I can’t connect with them?

  • What if we are unable to win?

I don’t know about you, but this happens to me every season, no matter the sport, age, or gender. We are not just coaches, we are humans with feelings and emotions. Often times we try to put up a front that we are a strong, unemotional leader all the time because we think our athletes need that.

Well, maybe it’s not the speech that is the problem…maybe it’s us.  

I found an old photograph of myself coaching a few years ago. I was standing with one arm crossed and the elbow of the other arm resting on it while I stroked my beard. For fun, right there on the spot, I took that pose and noticed how it felt really comfortable to me. Then it hit me, I got that pose from my old coach.

Has that happened to you? You do something or say something and realize it was lifted straight from a memory of you as the athlete. How many times have you caught yourself saying something your old coach used to say? I bet it is more than you think. “One coach will impact more young people in one year than the average person does in a lifetime,” says Dr. Billy Graham. And from experience, you and I both know that impact lasts a lifetime.

You are not your old coach.

Maybe you have been wearing the attitude and habits of your old coach, but they don’t fit quite right. You are a collection of all the coaches (good and bad) you have ever had. Take the advice of Bruce Lee, when he said, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is not, and add what is specifically your own.” Your coaching philosophy should be your own; carefully created to be authentic to who you are.

So, what should you say on that first day of practice? Well, take a deep breath and relax, because it doesn’t matter as much as you think, or as much as you might hope. The speeches made in movies and television are sensationalized. The kids don’t care that much. You know what they do care about?

  • Will Coach take me seriously?

  • Will Coach try to connect with me?

  • Will Coach help me find success regardless of the scoreboard?

Notice, those were the questions we thought we needed to answer in that first speech of the year. In reality, you already know what to say. Speak from the heart. Let them know you will work hard to make them successful. Remind them they are in charge of their attitude, their effort, and their work ethic. Help them to see that you are their guide, but the season belongs to them.

Then stop talking and show them you meant what you said, Coach.