This is a post I have wanted to write for a while.
I see so many stories about parents who are fed up with youth coaches and the way their sons or daughters are treated,
My wife and I had that frustration when our kids participated in youth basketball. Some coaches were alright but they all suffered from one or two major flaws.
1) They thought that the way coaches act on television was the way to treat kids. You know what I mean. Screaming and berating to make a point.
2) Overcoaching. We are talking about 3rd and 4th graders now. These guys were talking about very involved basketball theories that they themselves didn’t understand.
3) Only coaching the kids with talent and ignoring the others who didn’t play as well.
So, what to do as a parent? Pick another sport? We felt the only way to survive the basketball season was for me to volunteer my time and be a coach.
This was the start of a seven year adventure. Coaching basketball from 3rd grade to 8th grade in a state (Indiana) where EVERYONE is an expert on the game.
At the start of every season I would send a letter home with the kids for their parents. I would introduce myself and explain what they could expect from me during the upcoming season.
It was simple, really. We were going to involve all the kids from the first minute of practice to the last game of the season. No matter the skill level. We thought all some kids needed and wanted was a chance to be part of the game. I also explained we were going to coach by positive reinforcement. No berating, humiliating, or punishment drills. Like running sprints. I wanted them to play without looking over their shoulders to see if they were in trouble with me.
You would think parents would be okay with that. Well, some were. But most were concerned with whether or not the team had a chance to win. So, during that first season, about halfway through it, I had unhappy parents, other coaches who were running up the score on us and refs who didn’t respect us.
I knew we were getting better but I could feel things slipping, so during this game where we were getting blown out on the scoreboard, I called a timeout. Gathered the kids in the middle of the court, not near the bench. (I should mention at this point that my voice carries pretty well when I want it to, and this day I wanted it to.)
I told (yelled) to the kids the following, ” I don’t care what the score says. I don’t care what the fans say. I don’t care what the refs call. I don’t care what the other team says to you. They are taller and faster than you, they are supposed to be winning by this much. All that matters to me and all that should matter to you is this, we are getting better every week. I know this and you do to. That is all that should matter to us. Are we improving each and every week? Yes, we are. Get back out there and keep playing hard.”
Now, if you are looking for a Disney finish to that game, don’t bother. We did lose, but the kids knew that I wasn’t going to change the approach we had started the season with. Practices were a lot of fun the rest of the year and the best part came at the start of the next season.
The first game was against the coach from that previous season. He had most of his players back and so did I. My kids won by 1 point. That doesn’t have anything to do with the overall point of this post, I just like typing that we won.
Back to the point of this posting, what we were hoping for with the coaching experience was simple. Having a group of kids who would get a fair chance at playing a game they love. And they did love the game. As the years passed, the word got out with the kids in the program that we were a fun group to spend a few months with.
My favorite part of any game was if every kid showed up in the scorebook as having either scored or at least getting a shot. That meant more than winning because it showed everyone was involved. We felt giving a kid a chance to show what they could do and help teach them what they needed to learn was the whole point of youth sports. And through all the kids we coached, I was never disappointed by a kid to whom we gave an opportunity.
Our approach wasn’t just making the best of a bad situation with kids who weren’t talented. The last two years we won the branch tournament and finished runner-up in the Fort Wayne city tournament twice. So, you could and can win with our way of coaching. We just didn’t put winning first.
I loved watching shy kids learn how to fit in with their teammates.
I think with kids it is important for them to develop confidence. Because, confidence is portable. You can take into your friendships, your schoolwork,any direction you want to go. We had kids try out for and make the team in: wrestling, swimming,soccer,debate, and band.
I had a blast coaching and I would encourage anyone to give it a try.
My daughters played soccer back when there were no teams for girls. Both of them were the only girl on their teams. One coach acted as though he was coaching an Olympic Team; that winning was the only thing that mattered. He yelled. A lot. He took it way to serious, and he liked to threaten the kids with “NO ICE CREAM IF YOU LOOSE!” This was a KINDERGARTEN team. The other coach (2nd graders) took your approach. He worked on teaching them how to work as a team, how to get down the basic skills. He taught them how to respect adults and each other, and how to listen. And after every game, even ones they lost, a trip to DQ was a part of the routine. He would say “Any team can have ice cream in a moment of victory…I think sometimes you need it more when you lose.”. Needless to say, we found a different coach for our kindergartener player…and still speak fondly of the 2nd grade coach who taught kids how to succeed in life, and, occasionally, on the field.
I got in to arguments with coaches who treated kids bad. There is just no excuse for it.
Yeah, his expectations for kindergarteners was HUGE. Reality is, you were lucky if you could get them to run in the right direction. But that’s OK, they were LITTLE KIDS! He probably had got himself kicked out of coaching other ages; that was probably all that was left 😉
another great post – i’m thinking of coaching my son’s team this upcoming season but not sure if I have the right temperament to do so. Glad to know that you can be relaxed about it and kids will respond
Coach. You might surprise yourself.