They call me coach

Having coached youth sports for the last 10 years I have seen all kinds of coaches - good and bad. Who am I to pass judgment on their abilities? I am certainly not the best coach in the world and I will freely admit that I have picked up many an idea from other coaches. As with all coaches and people in general, I do the best that I can with the talent that God gave me. I have my own agenda good or bad and I move forward, sometimes with great results and sometimes with embarrassing results. But in the end, they still call me coach.

We talk so much about winning and losing, but is that really all there is to sports? In any competition there is always a measurable outcome - winner and loser. Let's be honest here, we are all competitive creatures, we compete for jobs, grades, our own beloved professional sports teams, in our homes and on our highways. But, is winning and losing all there is to youth sports? If we can't win should we even bother to play? I for one have missed that simple point for along time - without a loser there could not be a winner! That is to say, without a loser we could not experience that wonderful moment - that thrilling moment of knowing you did your best and your best was better than anyone else's. That's why we play and coach the games - for those few moments when everything comes together and we know that we have given it our best. It is through hardships, through overcoming obstacles, through enduring despite difficulties that make winning so enjoyable. Isn't this what builds character? Isn't that exactly what we want to instill in our youth?

I started off in youth coaching as an assistant coach on my daughter's softball team. I played sports throughout high school so I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the various fundamentals of the sports my children were playing. I didn't like being an assistant coach and I thought I could do better and that I knew more than the head coach. It wasn't that he was doing a bad job, I just thought I could do things better. I didn't complain and talk bad about the head coach, I just decided that I wasn't just going to be an assistant coach any longer; I was going to be the head coach.

You may be thinking by now, that I am not a very good person. You would probably be right. For as the prophet Isaiah said, "Our good deeds are stained with self-interest and our demands for justice are mixed with lust for vengeance." So, I won't lie and say that the reason that I started coaching youth sports was all about the kids and giving back to the community. My selfish reasons for coaching have changed dramatically over the years, from wanting to show that I am a better coach to understanding that the kids have much more to teach me than I could ever hope to teach them.

So, what does it take to be a successful coach?

First and foremost I have come to the conclusion that you have to be strong. You have to be strong in your commitment to fundamentals and your responsibility to the team as a whole. As a coach you have a responsibility to yourself, your own child, the entire organization, all the players on the team and their parents. You have a responsibility to make sure that all of your players learn the fundamentals of the game and get opportunities to develop those fundamentals. You will have parents that will sell-out their own children so that they can be a part of a winning team. You will have parents who will be upset because they think there child is the star and is not being treated as the star. You will have parents who don't understand that their child has a commitment to the team to show up for practice everyday and on time. You will have parents who will want to educate you on how to coach the team or their own child. You will have parents who think it's all about fun and socializing. You will have parents who think it's all about winning. In essence you will have a little bit of everything thrown at you. If you're not strong and committed to your principles you won't have a team you will have a group of individuals who get together a couple of times a week and play a sport.

You have to be a great communicator. You have to be willing to communicate up front with your players and their parents and let them know what you stand for, what is expected of them and what is expected of the team and then stick with it. Zero tolerance! This sounds harsh but in all fairness you have a big responsibility. If you are willing to take on this responsibility it is only reasonable that you can expect your player's and their parents to keep their end of the bargain. You still need to be willing to listen to your players and their parents and keep an open mind about their concerns. Encourage your players to speak directly with you, let the parents know that they can help their child take responsibility by talking directly to the coach, not having their parent talk for them.

You must have a positive attitude and coach accordingly. When I first became a youth coach I was pretty confident in my knowledge and understanding of coaching. (How little I knew). I tried to coach as I had been coached. I yelled and screamed at my young players and demanded perfection. I have slowly learned that being positive works much better than screaming. When I quit looking for the negative and started looking for the positive in my players and started communicating with them about the positive parts of their games, I was amazed at the change in effort and confidence that I began to see. Now, don't get me wrong, there are still times when I have to give negative feedback because you have to keep it honest, but I make sure that I give more positives than negatives when providing feedback to my players. Your attitude is the key to getting your player's and their parents to follow your principles and philosophy. When everything else is equal or if there is any doubt, will you as a coach not pick the player with the better attitude? As a player would you not work harder for a coach with a great attitude?

You must be willing to learn new techniques and study the game to become a better coach. Let's face it, at all levels there is always someone out there who is a better athlete, better coach, better whatever. Don't be afraid to ask questions and learn from someone else. As a coach, no matter how long you have been at it, you will always make mistakes, learn from your mistakes. Don't get caught up in winning and losing. This is a part of athletics, but it's not the central focus. Don't get me wrong here; I am not one of those people who are going to try to convince you that competition is bad for our young people. What I am saying is that you could be the best coach in the world, if you don't have the athletes you aren't going to win, because you don't play the game. Keep the focus on learning the fundamentals and playing together as a team. You don't accomplish this by giving your less accomplished athletes less and less opportunities. Yes, at the club level and the high school and college level this is how it works, but don't give up on an 8 year old because he/she doesn't yet have the skills and abilities that some teammates may already possess.

You need to be organized and focused. You need to know exactly what you want to accomplish before you ever get to the field or gym. You should know what skills you are going to work on and for how long. Delegate some of the responsibility to your assistant coaches, if you have communicated well what you want to accomplish, your assistants can run the drills without you standing over their shoulders. This will allow you to accomplish much more in a shorter period of time.

You must be the first to demonstrate good sportsmanship. Honor the game with integrity. Respect the rules, opponents, officials and traditions of the game. Keep a low profile during the game and allow the kids to be the center of attention.

Finally, focus on defense and fundamentals. Don't get caught up in focusing on a couple of better than average players and having everything revolve around the exceptional talent that you may find. Work on fundamentals with all of your players and teach them good solid defensive principles. Offense may be fun and exciting, but defense will win you games and anyone can be taught to play good defense pretty quickly.

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