Too many coaches think the most important thing in a meeting is to tell the players what they need to know. Yes, there is a time for that, but not enough coaches give space for their players to share. There is wisdom to be learned from a coach, and just as much from an athlete.
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.
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!
Start on time, every day. End on time, every day. Teach the athletes what to do if they are late. Don’t make them run when they are late, that just makes them more late. Assign a team captain to facilitate consequences after practice for those who are late. If no one is late, the captain doesn't have to stay. It only takes once for a captain to have to stay after because of his or her teammates. Peer pressure is WAY more powerful than whatever you have to say about the subject.
When the losses start piling up, it is easy to think a new play or formation will solve the problem. We forget that these are kids, playing a game, and if we could just get out of the way and let them play, we would more often see that beautiful moment of a child doing something they love.
SUBJECT: YMCA Suns Initial Team Information (Please Read)
My name is James Leath and I am your daughter's basketball coach. I will be reaching out with more information about practice and games shortly. Please respond with your best contact information (both parent's names, email and mobile phone).
A little about me…I am originally from Fresno. My bride and I moved here 3 years ago for work. I currently work for [insert company] as [insert title]. I am working on my masters in sports psychology with an emphasis on youth sports. I have coached multiple sports from elementary school to the semi-pro level over the past 20 years. We don't have any kids, though we have fostered in the past. I had a great run as an athlete and love passing on what I have learned through sports to the next generation.
My personal mobile number is (559) XXX-XXXX. Please use it to text me if for some reason your child won’t be at practice so I can plan accordingly. If they are going to miss a game, please, please let me know before our last practice that week so I can prepare the team.
Thank you for trusting me as your daughter’s coach.
PS: If you come to practice (and I hope you do) do not be surprised if I toss you into a drill to join the fun (and help me out a bit).
Subject: Be specific in your email title, and always include the team name in the title so it is easily searchable. Do not use the same email title every time.
A little about me… Talk about things like where you are from, if you played sports, why you are coaching, etc.
My personal phone number: Text messaging is the best way to communicate with parents these days. Save their information in your phone. I usually save the number as “Taylor’s Mom” or something of that nature.
Practice and Games: I use Google gmail and calendar, as it is the most widely used (in my experience). I update it with practice dates, times, and locations then share it with the parents.
Rules : Try and get a PDF copy of the rules, attaching it to this initial email.]
Tip: Be sure to call within a day or two to introduce yourself. Many parents will not have gotten to your email, but at least they will have the information to refer to.
Today is the first day of spring. I love spring. The weather gets warmer, the sun gets brighter, and the playing fields get louder. Here are a few tips I teach new coaches on how to increase communication with athletes. These tips will help get your message across to your athletes. And remember, if they keep doing the drill wrong, it means you are doing a poor job of explaining it.
1. Take off your glasses.
In college, I worked at an elementary school as a yard duty teacher. There was an autistic student who was notorious for being a troublemaker on the playground. He once told me I was the only teacher he would listen to. When I asked him why, he pointed at the hand on my side holding my sunglasses. He said, “Because when you talk to me to take your sunglasses off so I can see your eyes - you’re the only teacher who can see me.”
2. Take note of the sun.
After a long practice in the heat, my team took a knee but wouldn’t look at me. I began to get agitated and raised my voice. One of my athletes stood up and said, “Coach, I want to look at you, but right next to your head is the sun and we are staring directly into it.” Whoops, my bad. Bonus: try to have a wall behind you so there is less activity to distract them. If you are talking to a group of young men and behind you is a group of young women, your team is not listening to you. Set your team up for success, not failure.
3. Take a knee.
All day long children are literally looking up to their parents and teachers. Taking a knee or bending over to get on their level will allow them to make a better connection with you. Most likely you will be the only adult all day who met eye to eye with them, and kids remember that stuff because it is human nature to remember how a person made you feel over remembering what a person said.
4. Take a breath.
Kids are not mini-adults. I repeat, kids are NOT mini-adults. They don’t have the years of experience you have learning about emotions and how to control them appropriately. It is your job and the job of other adults who influence them to teach them the strategies they need to deal with these new emotions and how to act. You are there to teach them. Remember: Your behavior is louder than your words.
5. Take two minutes or less.
How many times did your focus waiver when reading this note? Remember that the next time you get mad at your athlete for not paying attention. We live in a world full of distractions. Focus takes energy and lots of practice. Coach Wooden rarely spoke to a player for more than 30 seconds and more typically for only five to seven seconds. His strategy was to teach, show, then have them do it, not give a 5-minute lecture on the history of that drill.
I hope these help you as much as they have helped me over the years.
This week I would like to defer to my friend John O’Sullivan, founder of ChangingTheGameProject.com . You may have seen him in a TedTalk from a few years ago speaking about the importance of youth sports and how to make it a fun experience for kids. There is a really funny commercial at minute 6:11 that reverses the typical conversation between an overbearing father and a youth athlete. Ever wonder what it would be like if kids showed up on the golf course and talked to their dad the way some dads talk to their kids? Hilarious.
A great way to establish a fantastic relationship with your athletes is to write one handwritten thank you note a day to someone on your team. Make this a habit a habit and you will find your athletes attitude change toward you. When an athlete knows you genuinely care about them, they will hear you better and want to do better for you and the team.