You Wanna Be A Coach
wanna be a coach. Great idea. Too bad you might turn into a big jerk
who makes children yearn for their video games. Too bad you could
thwart the very affection for a sport that can turns kids into great
athletes. Too bad you could become the worst kind of role model.
This may sound
like a harsh hello to the helpful dad who's volunteering for his
child's new league. But I love sports. I watch. I play. I get paid
for writing about sports. I've coached and I've refereed. And I've
seen enough of youth sports to know that adults can easily ruin
much of what is wonderful about it.
have to be this way, though. Being a coach can be incredibly fun-and
educational-for you and for the kids you're coaching. So if your
good intentions have led you to a field, court, rink, or diamond
to coach a team in the 5 to 8 age range, here are a few things to
keep in mind:
your mouth shut
Don't scream non-stop instructions. Let kids make their own decisions
and learn from their own mistakes.
the parents quiet
They can clap at the good stuff if they want, but a children's sporting
event should be dominated by sounds of children, not adults. Advise
the parents to attend pro events if they've got an urge to be overzealous.
berate or blame the referee
Yelling at a referee sets a terrible example. If you must point
out a severe blunder, do it politely, during a break, out of everyone
else's earshot. Blaming a referee for a loss only teaches players
to shun personal responsibility. If the players are upset at the
ref, remind them that they got some good breaks as well. That's
usually the truth.
turn the field into a classroom or act like a general
Coaches love to act like Patton addressing the troops. But this
ain't the army. Nor is it school time. Children come to play, not
to get lectured. Don't stand in front of them, clipboard in hand,
and give long speeches. When it's necessary to address the team
as a group, keep it as brief as possible.
When offering tips, address players individually. For example, at
halftime, let the kids sit around and walk to each with a short,
simple message. "Hey, John, you're looking good, but think
about passing to Marcelo when he's open. ... Jack, don't be afraid
to use your left foot. ... Sally, don't scream at your teammates,
of us, as a matter a fact-are more likely to digest individual instructions.
And if you have to scold--"Janet, you're not out there to hurt
people!"--don't do it publicly. Instead, pull the child aside
and do it privately. You'll be a lot less likely to get an indignant
response that way.
in small groups and avoid lines
At practice, break the team down in small groups so kids get as
many touches on the ball as possible. This will also prevent the
necessity of making players wait in line for their turn. No one
likes waiting in line.
ball for everyone
Have every kid bring a ball to practice and use it as much as possible.
All the tactical intricacies that kids are going to learn later
will come easier if they have acquired good ball (or puck) skills.
Obviously, have all the safety equipment that any particular sport
We're talking about coaching young children and practice should
always be fun. Everything they do at practice should feel like playing,
not training. For each sport there are myriad fun scenarios for
practice. If you're at a loss, create your own by modeling them
after playground games like tag, keep-away, and dodge-ball.
Rotate positions. Let everyone get a shot at every spot on the field,
court, rink or diamond. Don't force the fat kid to play catcher
or goalkeeper all the time. Give the star a taste of right field
(or even the bench) now and again. Have your tall, lanky center
see what playing guard is like. In soccer, don't scream at the 6-year-old
defender who roams into the offense, or the forward who wants to
chase back to defense.
you can't play ...
It's wonderful if you can teach by example. Kids will be inspired
by your talent and try to emulate your moves. But if you can't,
kudos for not shying away from the challenge. Young children don't
require expert coaches. They need someone who can supervise fun
and sportsmanship. Still, learn as much as you can about the sport,
but don't rely on just reading about it. Watch it whenever you can.
And recruit some assistants or older kids to come to your practices
and help out.
isn't evil, but ...
To deny that sports at any level are competitive is true hypocrisy.
Sport is competition. And it's perfectly fine for 6-year-olds to
try to win. As a coach, one of your biggest jobs is to teach them
how to lose. Your example, and the behavior of the parents, will
go a long way toward instilling good sportsmanship. But remember,
the future success of the youngsters you're coaching won't depend
on today's results. If they're having fun at this age, you're setting
them up to yearn to improve.
Now it's up
to you, Coach.
Woitalla is the Executive Editor of Soccer America Magazine. He and
his wife, Holly Kernan, live in Oakland under the reign of their 18-month-old
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