It’s one of the first questions that most sports parents have to confront: Is it a good – or bad – idea to volunteer to coach your own son or daughter on a youth team?
To me, in my experience, this is always a good thing…BUT you have to be aware of some of the pitfalls that may await you. After all, there’s a tremendous chance to not only bond with your child, but also to share a wonderful experience that will last two lifetimes – yours, and his or hers.
But there are some ground rules: First off, you should always approach your youngster several weeks before the season begins, and ask them if they would like you to coach their team. Most of the time they will be thrilled and excited, but if they show concern, then take that concern seriously. That is, if they really would prefer that you NOT coach them, then respect their feelings and abide by them.
But for now, let’s assume they are excited to have you as their coach.
Make sure you explain to them you can’t show them any favoritism. That they are to call you Coach on the field instead of Mom or Dad. And explain to them they can’t expect any special favors from you regarding playing time or playing their favorite position. It’s important that they understand this before the first practice begins.
And of course, make sure you live by that rule of non-favoritism. Why? Because every other parent on the team will assume you ARE going to give you kid more playing time than the others…that you will put them on the All-Star team…and that you will give them the best position to play.
In other words, you have to work hard to show the other Moms and Dads that you are NOT playing favorites with your own child.
THE ONE-PAGE HANDOUT
At the very first practice of the season, you should have a ONE-PAGE handout that goes through the basics, including the complete schedule, the practice times, and all of your contact info, including the team or league’s website.
Here’s a tip: at the very end of the sheet, instruct the parents to email you their contact information. In that way, you’ll know whether they actually read the entire hand-out.
AVOID HAVING LOTS OF RULES
DO NOT have all sorts of rules and regulations. That’s not necessary. Just remind the kids and their parents of three things: to always be on time for practices and games…to represent the team at all times in a positive manner…and to always live up to the expectations of sportsmanship.
Don’t worry about listing punishments if they break these rules. That’s not necessary, and besides, you never want to pinned down by having to hand out a certain punishment. (For example, if you have a punishment that any child who is late for a game will sit out for most of the game, what do you when it turns out the child and their parent stopped to help out the victim of a traffic accident enroute to the game?) In other words, don’t get pinned down by having set punishments.
But that being said, if a kid or one of their parents breaks one of the rules, you along with the other coaches can determine a reasonable and suitable punishment. Just let the punishment reasonably fit the crime.
Suggestion: I’m a big fan of the written essay. That is, rather than having a kid run laps or carry the equipment bag as a punishment, if you really want to drive home the significance of their errant action, tell them to write a one or two page essay within a week that explains why what they did was wrong. Make it clear that they will not practice or play in a game until you have the essay and that it’s acceptable to you.
Trust me, they will hate doing the essay – but they won’t break the rules again.
LET’S MOVE BEHIND YELLING AND SCREAMING
Are you a yeller and screamer? If you are, it’s time to change your ways.
Kids today will respond maybe once or twice to your screaming, but after that you will lose all impact with them. They respond much better to praise and a smile.
Kids today want, expect, and demand praise….anger and shouting will only have the impact of DE-MOTIVATING them from wanting to play for you.
So, how do you praise children? First, put a smile on your face. Second, walk up to every kid during practice or a game, and make sure you give them some specific positive feedback.
It’s not enough to say, “Way to go, Sammy” Rather, you have to say “Sam, you made a terrific defensive play in that first half…that was a great steal” In other words, BE SPECIFIC in your praise! And do it in front of the entire team. Let the kid feel really good about him or herself for a few moments.
What do you say after the game – especially when they lose.
Let’s say your team loses. As the coach, you’re going to be tempted to go into lecture mode, and spend at least 10-15 minutes going over every detail of the game and what your team did wrong that day.
Just forget that approach. Hang on to your end-of-game notes for the next practice. But when the game ends, just bring your team together, tell them that they played hard, but it just wasn’t their day to prevail.
Consciously keep your remarks under a minute. Make sure everybody is okay and healthy. And then send them on their way with a smile.
That’s it….lecture them on their mistakes at the next practice.
Understand this: kids have very short attention spans, and they really don’t want to sit and listen to you after the game is over. Their minds are already thinking about their next activity is.
If you make the mistake of lecturing them, and pointing out their mistakes, or how disappointed you are in their performance, they will tune you in about 15 seconds.
AVOID THE PGA
Be very careful not to get in the family mini-van on the way home and lecture your child on how he or she played. I call that the PGA – the “Post-Game Analysis” — and it’s important to avoid. Too many parents feel that it’s the perfect time to go over what their child did in the game, and especially the parts where they could improve their skills while it’s still fresh in their head.
That actually is the worst time to talk to your child about the game. On the way home, just be a positive and totally supportive parent/coach. If you do want to discuss the game, just pick out a particular play in which they did well. Focus on the positive – leave the “constructive criticism” for tomorrow or the next day.
COPING WITH BAD BEHAVIOR
What if a kid is being argumentative or is disruptive or unsportsmanslike?
As the coach, just give them a time-out. Remember, the only power you have over the kids is that you determine who gets in the game. So if a kid is acting up, or is out of control, you just tell them to come over and stand on the sidelines with you. Especially if it’s YOUR kid who is acting up. Again, no special favors. And they remain there on the sidelines until they become contrite and understand what they did was wrong.
Once you are convinced they are sincere, you can then let them get back into the game.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER PARENTS?
I happen to be a believer that coaches can be approached by parents.
I know there are some coaches who tell the Moms and Dads don’t bother me – if your kid has a concern, let them come talk with me.
But I still feel that coaching is very much part of education, and if a parent has a concern for their child, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to approach the coach.
Now that being said, there are indeed a few parents who will abuse that. They will try and call you or email you endlessly or they’ll wait until after each practice or game to talk with you.
To counteract this kind of obsessive parent, just lay out some ground rules as to when is the best time and way to contact you. For example, email is best….or if you want, tell them to come talk to you after practice as you will wait for 10-15 minutes, tops.
And when they do talk to you, just listen….DO NOT get into an argument.
Let them say their piece…hold your tongue. You may absolutely 100 percent disagree with their evaluation of their child’s abilities, or how they are telling you to run the team’s offense, but remember, they see their child as the center of their universe, and they want to be able to go home and tell their family how they had the courage to talk with the coach. That makes them feel good.
Now, that being said, DO NOT make any promises. Just thank the parent for coming by and talking with you, and that you will take their thoughts and comments under advisement. That’s all you have to say.
DO NOT make any promises. Don’t even say, “Let me see what I can do…” because that will be interpreted as a promise.
THE FIRST RULE OF COACHING IS THE GOLDEN RULE
What’s the bottom line if you coach your child’s team? Just follow the Golden Rule.
That is, you need to treat your players in the much the same way you would want any other coaches to treat your child.
Always think about that Rule first, and it will help insure that you, your child, and the rest of the kids will come away with a positive team experience.