Our voice as “Coach” stays with our athletes long after they hand in their jersey for the last time. Our words echo inside their brains, the good and the bad. For example, I remember when my high school volleyball coach spent over an hour with me after practice preparing me for a job interview and sharing tips on how to dress and what to say. I also remember when my eighth-grade baseball coach yelled at me from the dugout to “just throw fu$&%ing strikes” when I struggled to get the ball over the plate.
As adults, we have a responsibility to allow our children to be children. Why do so many parents feel the need to fill every weekend with tournaments and training at the cost of letting a child be a child? What about family time? What about letting kids hang out with their friends? These are a problem that is only being exacerbated by many people in youth sports, specifically the club coaches who promise that taking a weekend off, much less a few weeks, would be severely detrimental to the development of that player. That is just wrong thinking.
“Sometimes when you win, you actually lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs.” -Gloria Clemente, White Men Can’t Jump
Kids want to be different, just like everyone else. The picture below was picture day, immediately after taking the "official picture". The Funny thing is, we spent 35 minutes in line waiting for the official pictures. Ironically, this is the picture I saw on the refrigerators of the families I coached that year. This picture took 10 seconds, and is a better representation of who they really are than some stuffy, organized team photo.
At the beginning of every season, I sit down with the parents and let them know what they can expect from me as the coach of their child. I go through a list of bullet points I have curated throughout the years, so there are no surprises
To start the new school year, I wrote down for you a sample of how my parent meetings go. It is directed at a youth football team. Enjoy!
We continued to talk for a few more minutes. It is always great to catch up with former players and see what lessons they took from our time together. This conversation reminded me, however, that a coach’s influence doesn’t end when the season is over, but that for the rest of that player’s life, I will always be “Coach.”
Coach, when my 14-year-old son comes home from practice and the only one criticizing him is himself, it is frustrating. As a goalie, he is pretty vocal on the field, except for when he makes mistakes. The angrier he gets at himself, the worse he plays. Is there a technique to somehow curb that anger and frustration so it doesn't mess him up, or does that start to become a maturity thing?
To find more success in youth sports, simplify your playbook, increase your ability to connect with children, and practice in-game situations. But whatever you do, don’t assume the child has learned how to listen and respond. We are the adults, and we are their models for how to be.
Be a great adult.
Remember, we are in the business of creating adults. In the past week, I have not seen a cone, replaced a cleat, or heard a whistle, but I have had hard conversations with other adults. I can do that in part because the youth coaches I had were my models for communication and I was lucky to have some really great examples.
As an older coach, how do you stay relevant to the younger generations? I get this question often. Pop culture is constantly evolving and it can be hard to stay knowledgeable about what is going on. A few years ago I took about 30 minutes to figure out what Pokemon go was all about. When I dropped it in a lesson during class, it was instant street cred!
Coach, challenge your athletes to set the standard for the team. They will not adhere to seemingly arbitrary rules handed down on a piece of paper or written on a wall. You didn't when you were an athlete and neither will they. However, if you can get them to feel how the expectation will help them, you will see improved compliance.