Archive for Coaching tips

COACHING TIPS: The Plight of the Benchwarmer…What Coaches, Parents, and Kids Need to Know

For those of you who follow ASKCOACHWOLFF.COM, you know that our friend and colleague, Doug Abrams, wrote a most powerful column this past week on this website.

It was such a powerful topic that I felt compelled to talk about it on my WFAN radio show this AM.

In short, in this day and age, when we are all so caught up and focused on who ares rising young stars in youth and amateur sports, I think Doug’s point of view is very much right on point.

That is, what do we do with the kid who doesn’t start on the team…the youngster who is hoping to get into the game but probably won’t…the player who has to sit and wait for his or her time to get in.

The young athlete who, unfortunately, is labelled, or viewed, as a benchwarmer, sees and views the game at hand much differently from the coach or from the way his teammates do. That is, the coach (and I’m talking primarily about HS varsity coaches here) is focused on his game strategy and X’s and O’s….the starters are locked in on following the coach’s game plan, and hoping to have a good game. But the kid on the bench? He’s hoping that the game results in a lopsided score so that maybe, just maybe, he or she might get some playing time.

That may be harsh, but deep down inside, for anyone who has ever sat on a HS varsity bench, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

And of course, there’s more. The parents of the benchwarmer are also wondering why their child isn’t getting more playing time. You know what happens next: the coach starts getting emails or calls from the kid’s parents as to what’s going on.


Let’s back up. Playing time at the elementary and middle school ages (as well as travel teams) should never be a problem. Every kid on the team should play at least half the game. And coaches, you have to make sure that happens. That’s the most important part of your game approach. Winning at those ages is NOT your top priority. Getting kids lots of quality playing time is. That’s rule number one.

I recall when I was coaching youth soccer. The games were often divided into quarters, and I kept a detailed scorecard for each quarter, and made sure that not only did each kid on the team play at least half the game, but I also made sure the youngsters rotated positions.

Was this time-consuming in terms of keeping track of playing time? A little bit. But I knew two things:

1 – That in the end, my won-loss record in coaching youth soccer wasn’t a top priority.

2 – That the moms and dads and grandparents who came out to watch the games were there for one singular purpose  — to watch their child play, and play at lot. They did not come out to see them sit on the bench.

And a couple of things happened….my youth soccer teams won more often than they lost…why? Because I think since all the kids on the team knew they were going to play, and play a lot, they brought an extra sense of energy to the games.

And two…the kids and their parents came away from the games with a sense of joy.

Trust me, that counts for a lot.

At the youth level, coaches, I can’t emphasize that enough.

But admittedly, things get more complicated as kids get into HS age. Example. One of the callers on the show this AM complained that his son played on his HS football team, went to every practice, but never got a minute of playing time in the games. Hard to believe how a coach could do that to a kid. But I fear that this kind of thing happens more often than we want to admit.

There was also significant debate about a HS coach simply telling a senior player on the team that: “Look, you’ve earned your spot on the roster, but you need to know that you’re not going to play much this year, if at all.”

While I feel for the coach being honest with the senior, I also know that the player is most likely not going to cut himself from the team. Instead, he’ll stay on the team, and hope and pray for a few seconds of action. From the coach’s perspective, he admitted that it bothered him that he would have to pass by this kid on the sidelines during the game, knowing full well that the kid desperately wanted to get in, but that the coach knew he wasn’t going to play him.

My perspective? If a kid makes your roster, then Coach, you are then obligated to make sure he or she plays and contributes even in some small way to the team. To become a perpetual benchwarmer is not only not fair to the kid, but it also plants serious seeds for division on your team.


Please give the concept of benchwarmers some serious thought and reflection. If you know you’re the kind of coach who tends to only play his starters all the time, then tear off the Band-Aid and keep only a minimal number of players. That is, cut the benchwarmers.

If, however, you’re the kind of coach who CAN find playing time for all of your players, then keep a solid number and make sure they all play at least a little bit.

In other words, this is one very, very delicate issue. Just remember this: Playing time for their kids continues to be the Number One complaint from parents to coaches.


COACHING TIPS: Be Sensitive to the Concerns of Your Benchwarmers!

 Emotional Safety — and the Harms of Benchwarming

By Doug Abrams

Headlines these days pay close attention to youth leaguers’ physical safety – concussions, over-use injuries, and other risks and conditions that damage health and well-being. But player “safety” also means emotional safety, this column’s subject. Parents and coaches fulfill their most important missions when an athlete emerges from the final youth league game both physically healthy and emotionally healthy.

In our society that places so much emphasis on sports, few humiliations damage a youth leaguer’s emotional safety more than chronic benchwarming.

USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body, sets a wholesome standard for youth leagues: “Fair and equal opportunity for all to participate.” The National Hockey League, USA Hockey, and more than a dozen other prominent hockey organizations recently adopted a Declaration of Principles reaffirming that “hockey is for everyone”; the foundation for this imperative is respect for “each individual’s physical, emotional and cognitive development.” Similar aspirations should drive decision makers in other youth sports.

“Fair and equal opportunity” means more than just enrolling all interested youth leaguers and placing them on teams at appropriate levels of play. Enrollment and placement are the easy parts. The sternest challenge comes in games, when coaches eyeing the scoreboard get a tenseness in the stomach and might feel tempted to overlook some players for much or most of the contest. For more than 40 years, I coached youth hockey players who are now in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.  My former players still tell me why, in both the short term and the long term, emotional safety in youth sports depends on coaches who heed their better instincts by playing every team member.

Short-Term Emotional Safety  

In the short term, chronic benchwarming does not let kids be kids. Players join the team to play. They do not join to sit for a coach who thinks that benching some players might help win games whose scores families will likely soon forget. Former NBA player Bob Bigelow is right: “Few things violate a child’s basic wants and needs – and his or her basic rights – more than sitting on a bench.”

Childhood in America is meant to be a time of relative innocence and personal growth. Sports should deliver players fun and camaraderie, accented by personal achievement from giving best effort. Earning a living, paying mortgages, raising children, and similar weighty obligations will dominate their adult lives soon enough.

Long-Term Emotional Safety

In the long term, chronic benchwarming can leave permanent emotional scars from tattered self-esteem. A few years ago, the Los Angeles Times published a letter-to-the-editor by a former Little Leaguer about memories of his chronic benching one summer when he was a fourth-grader more than a generation earlier. “Our coach played only the stars,” he wrote, “I remember nothing else of that summer . . . except the sole inning I played.  I struck out and screwed up a play in left field. For the remainder of the season, I was invisible to the coach.” The letter writer confided that “the shame and humiliation of that one night at age 9 never went away. I’m 50 now.”

Shame and humiliation can impose serious lingering deprivation. More than four decades of coaching youth hockey taught me that as many as a quarter of a youth team’s players are destined to lead difficult, challenging adult lives through no fault of their own.  On a roster of about 16 players, this means about three or four kids. When these players are adults years from now, they or a family member may experience disability or disease, for example. Or financial stress, loss of employment, serious accident or injury, or other crisis whose temporary or permanent dislocation can strike families swiftly and at random.

Today’s coach does not know which eager 11-year-olds will be dealt a difficult hand in life; the players do not know; and the parents do not know.  But these players are in the locker room, and they are standing right in front of the coach.

Nostalgia remains one of the great strengths of the human mind. When my former players cope now with family adversity, youth sports still provides some of their most enduring memories of pure, unvarnished fun. When adults hit personal roadblocks, they can draw confidence and fortitude from reminiscing about good times, including experiences years earlier on childhood playing fields or in locker rooms.

Coaches deprive their youth leaguers of emotional safety when bittersweet memories of chronic benchwarming disable this lifelong support mechanism. Players remember the good times, but they never forget the bad times.

The Key Question

Coaching other people’s children is serious business, a relationship grounded in trust and respect. How can youth league coaches know whether they are fulfilling their responsibility to help keep every player emotionally safe, now and later in life?

Look squarely in the mirror and ask one question: “How well do I treat my least talented player?” The answer will tell plenty about what emotional safety means to the coach.


Sources:, Declaration of Principles; Bob Bigelow, Just Let the Kids Play (2001); Humiliation of Ineptness on the Field Never Left, L.A. Times, May 21, 2001, Part 5, p. 4 (letter-to-the-editor).

COACHING TIPS: How to Get Athletes to Perform at Their Best during the Heat of the Game

I have had the good fortune to have known Rick Peterson for well over 20 years. And in the world of professional baseball, there is no one who is more respected when it comes to working with the top pitchers. Rick has studied not only the inner mechanics of how to pitch, but over the years, what impressed me was how he understood the complex impact a pitcher’s psyche has on his ability to pitch, and to pitch well, in a tight game.

An extremely busy guy who is much in demand in the baseball and the corporate world for his insights on performing well under pressure, Rick finally found time in his busy schedule to write a book entitled CRUNCH TIME: How to Be Your Best when it Matters Most. It’s a terrific and fast-paced read. Excellent insights along with entertaining stories. The book is written with Judd Hoekstra, who’s a VP with the Ken Blanchard Company. The book is published by Barrett-Koehler, and is in stores or available from Amazon now.

There are a number of excellent observations in the book, but overall the main takeaway is one of how a pitcher can learn to re-frame, or re-set their approach during crunch time. For example, I think every baseball fan watching from the stands or watching on TV has often wondered what does a pitching coach actually say to his pitcher when he’s a tight jam in a close game. That is, we see that coach going out to the mound to add a few words of inspiration to the pitcher.

So, what does the coach say? What are the magic words he delivers to his pitcher? Especially if the game is at a very tense moment, aka crunch time?

In short, Peterson first gets to know his pitchers so well during the course of a season that he instinctively finds a way to get them to relax by often injecting a sense of humor. This is no (pardon the pun) no joke. By finding a way to release the tension by getting the pitcher to smile and laugh for a few moments, that often releases the tension just enough for the pitcher to have a chance to re-frame their current predicament. It’s as though all the built-up pressure is let go, the pitcher can mentally re-group thanks to a good laugh, and can then go back and re-focus on the task at hand.


Peterson tells the story of former All-Star closer Jason Isringhausen who was caught in a very tight and unexpected game. Nothing seemed to be working for him that day, and as the tension rose, Jason felt as though the wheels were truly coming off. After giving up another hit, Peterson was summoned to the mound.

“Rick,” Izzy started with real anxiety, “I don’t know what’s going on. I…I can’t feel my legs. It’s like they’re all numb.”

Recognizing that Izzy was experiencing a bit of a minor panic attack, and that he needed to blow off some steam and re-frame, Peterson added the perfect quip to get his ace closer to relax.

“Well, that’s okay about your legs,” Peterson said with a straight face, “Because we don’t need you to kick a field goal to win this game. We just need you to go and throw normally.”

A moment of pure laughter and the tension was broken. Izzy went back to work, re-framed his approach with that burst of humor and was able to regain his confidence and finish the game.


If you like that story and different kind of insight into alleviating tension, then you will enjoy CRUNCH TIME. Funny thing is, over the years as sports psychology has become more and more accepted, I have found that a lot of my colleagues insist that the best way to cope with the tension is by taking deep breaths, or by simply thinking positive thoughts. In my years of working with the Cleveland Indians and in coaching top college players, I never found that kind of approach to be all that effective. But humor, as Rick Peterson points out, is extremely powerful at getting the job done.   A well-planted line allows the athlete to laugh, to have fun, to step back, and to re-frame the situation, and go on to re-group and to re-attack the moment at hand.

There are other lots of other very applicable solutions in the book as well. For example, there’s some terrific observations on how we, as a society, always want our athletes to “go out and try harder” if they want to win. Especially during crunch time, you need to really push yourself and make a superior effort to push your game to a higher level.

Peterson makes a case that when athletes actually try and do that, e.g. a pitcher tries to throw even harder, then the result is a negative one. The pitcher often ruins their easy flow on the mound, and screws up their mechanics. In short, if anything, you shouldn’t try hard….you should try easy.

Pretty interesting observations. CRUNCH TIME,which features endorsements from Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics as well as from MONEYBALL author Michael Lewis is available on and in bookstores now.




COACHING TIPS: When Coaches Make Mistakes…

 When Coaches Apologize

By Doug Abrams

A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine was the volunteer head coach of a 9-10-year-old youth basketball team in a nearby recreation league. A mutual friend had introduced us months earlier, and I grew impressed with the coach’s values about sportsmanship, equal playing time, and similar matters central to a coach’s healthy relationship with youth leaguers. He had paid attention to nationally prominent youth sports advocates who “get it,” so I knew that his kids were in for an enriching season, win or lose.

In the preseason parents meeting, the coach had promised the families that their sons and daughters would receive equal playing time. He also explained why bench warming was incompatible with an elementary schooler’s need to feel like a part of the team.

By that time, the coach had already been on the sidelines for three years, long enough to begin honing leadership qualities but still early in the learning curve. Some of the team’s parents were also acquaintances of mine, and they gave him high marks for keeping his promises. He was already one of the good ones.

Then temptation reared its head one morning. The coach phoned me a few hours later to say that (as he put it) “I really blew it.” With the score close nearing the half, he played a short bench for the rest of the game. Six or seven team members got all the playing time until the final buzzer, and their teammates warmed the bench.

“I just got caught up in the game,” he explained. “I did something that I promised I would never do.” He knew that many of the parents were upset.


Temptation to cut corners for the sake of the scoreboard can prove a powerful force in youth sports coaching. Expressing solid values is easy in a preseason parents meeting, or from the security of the computer keyboard, because the words are cost-free. (Remember, “talk is cheap.”)

Maintaining solid values can be a lot tougher in the heat of a close game, whatever the kids’ age. I know that translating words into deeds takes fortitude because I have been behind youth hockey benches in plenty of close games. Coaches can easily get “that feeling” once W’s or L’s begin staring them in the face.

Chronic bench warming is bad enough, but a broken promise about equal playing time made matters worse for my friend. Then he did the right thing. He gathered the parents together before the next weekly practice, owned up to his mistake, and said that it would not happen again. The parents accepted the apology, and the team finished the season without further upset.

The Power of Apology

Mistakes happen. This story introduces this week’s column about the “power of apology.” The core proposition is that coaches, like parents, sometimes make mistakes in their relationships with children. Coaches are not perfect. When parents demand perfection, parents expect more from the coach than they expect from themselves.

At one time or another, coaches do or say something that they wish they could take back, but coaches (like parents and even players) may not get chances for do-overs. Coaches may try to do the right thing, but usually the best they can do is try to keep mistakes to the bare minimum.

Some mistakes remain serious. Fortunately most coaching mistakes do not inflict lasting emotional or physical hurt. Bench warming, for example, may prove embarrassing but can be remedied by coaches who realize they have come up short.

The calculus is different, however, when the coach refuses or fails to correct a pattern of misconduct. Or, for example, when the coach’s obviously dangerous drill seriously injures a player. Or when the coach singles out one player for a tongue lashing in front of the team. Depending on the coach’s track record, an apology may not satisfy disgruntled parents, or a board of directors who consider the coach’s suspension or dismissal. Some mistakes are so serious that, as the saying goes, the coach “cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

Sometimes an apology signals a “teaching opportunity.” My friend’s apology worked because his lapse – playing a short bench for most of the game — was isolated, inflicted no lasting hurt, and resulted from a single spur-of the-moment decision born of bad judgment.

Coaches and teachers are familiar with “teaching opportunities,” which enable them to instruct players or students with positive lessons from a negative event. Sometimes the learners include the adults themselves. Whether in the classroom or the playing field, the best coaches and teachers never stop learning. A lesson’s price may be an apology to one or more parents, or sometimes even to all the parents. I think everyone learned something worthwhile from that youth basketball game a few years ago.

Early communication is key. Coaching mistakes are foreseeable, and coaches and parents need to foresee them. Early in the preseason parents meeting, I would candidly tell our team’s parents to expect some coaching mistakes during the season, and not only ones stemming from strategies or tactics. Coaching other people’s impressionable children is serious business, so I promised to make the most serious effort to avoid mistakes.

Tongue in cheek, I would close this early part of the meeting by inviting advice from any parents willing to acknowledge that they had never regretted something they had said to their child or some decision they had made. Perhaps, I said, these parents could share the secrets of their perfection. I never had any takers.

COACHING TIPS: Learning The Japanese Way of Baseball

Rocky Pasquale has a most unusual job – a job in which he has been most successful.

For the last 15 years, Rocky has been the head coach at the Keio Academy, a HS in Purchase, NY, which is attended by Japanese students. In Rocky’s tenure, the Unicorns have won five Sectional championships.

That’s a most impressive overall accomplishment, considering that Rocky doesn’t speak any Japanese, and very few of his players speak any English. In addition, his teams tend to be considerably smaller in size than their American baseball opponents, so Rocky has tapped into his players’ ability to bunt, hit-and-run, suicide squeeze, throw strikes, and play solid defense.

“We speak the universal language of baseball,” says Rocky, “So for the most part, the language issue really isn’t a problem.”

This approach to “small ball” has worked very well for Keio. That, plus a cultural mentality that the “team always come first,” has led the Unicorns to great success. Coach Pasquale has fully embraced this style of play, which has become something of an anomaly in American sports these days where kids are so focused on their individual stats like their batting average or ERA.

Let me quote Rocky here: “It’s the unselfishness of playing a team sport. Culturally, that’s what they’re about. They’re not about the individual, and when you’re coaching a team, that’s huge. There are no egos out here and nobody is worried about their batting average or anything like that. If they haven’t done their job, they take it to heart and it hurts them. The unselfishness is the big thing which makes it great to work with these guys.”

Unselfish? Not concerned about their personal stats? Feel badly if they don’t get the job done? This is American baseball?

No, it’s Japanese baseball.

And it’s an approach that wins.

Some years ago, here in the US, kids approached the game in the same way. Lots of sacrifice bunts, know how to move the runner along, always be looking for a squeeze bunt. But these days, American players, in general, are exceedingly reluctant to bunt at any time, and as a consequence, they are not very good at it. In contrast, Rocky tells me that his kids are so good at bunting that he will often ask them to bunt with two strikes.

Rocky also tells me that his kids, who admittedly are from Japan and their parents aren’t around that much, rarely complain if ever about their kid’s spot in the lineup or their playing time. “I’m the envy of all the other HS coaches,” laughs Rocky, “The Keio parents never bother me.”

His players just win. They have little power. The team hit exactly one HR all season. They are smaller – his top pitcher this season was 5’8 and 130 pounds. But he threw strikes, rarely walked anyone, and changed speeds. His outfielders were quick and could run down long fly balls. His batters knew how to get on base and eventually score. And best of all, opposing teams knew coming into a game that they were going to be in for a real battle.

Think about this for a moment: a HS varsity team that wins championships by putting the team first, and one’s individual stats second. A team that knows how to play to its strengths. A team where the parents don’t interfere with the coaches.  A team where the kids are always respectful and always hustle on the field.

Sounds pretty good to me. I only wish more American HS teams (including kids and their parents) had the same kind of approach.



COACHING TIPS: Team Managers Need to Be Totally Organized

Tips for Team Managers: Help the Coach, Help the Kids

By Stephanie Myers, TeamSnap Content Manager

Everybody’s busy nowadays. Between work, your social life, your kids’ school and extracurricular activities, and family obligations, being asked to be team manager can seem like just one more thing to do.

While it might be a tough role at times, when it comes to helping out with your kid’s team, it means you’re there with your child, experiencing the good times and bad, making memories for a lifetime. It also means you’re making the job easier for the coach, who is often a volunteer and often has way too much to do (sounds familiar, right?).

So what does it take to be a great team manager? Here are a few tips culled from TeamSnap’s more than 8 million users on how to get off on the right foot and keep moving in the right direction all season long.

Don’t do it alone.

A mistake that many managers make is that they simply fail to delegate. Let other parents chip in on some of the simpler tasks on your team manager to do list, like bringing snacks, planning or hosting the end-of-season party and recording team stats. Make a list of all the jobs you want others to handle and add them to the list of other required team volunteer positions like referee and field prep, so you know just how much help you need. Then, throw a preseason team cookout and have your list ready. This way, you let parents and players get acquainted (or become reacquainted) in a casual setting, and you can make sure every volunteer job is filled before the end of the event.

Be prepared.

The team manager is kind of like a superhero, and you never know when you’ll need to duck into a phone booth to don your cape. Being as prepared as possible will ultimately make your job easier. One of the most important things you can do is create a team roster with everyone’s contact information, especially cell phone numbers. While it’s a good idea to distribute this to every parent on the team, no one needs this info more than you do. Although you can easily have paper copies available, there are also team management apps that allow you to access the roster online or on your mobile phone. That way, if you’re at a field and two players are late, you can call the parents to find out where they are and when they’ll be at the field, while the coach is getting the rest of the team ready to play.

Let technology make your job easier.

Thankfully, most people are now comfortable with email and texting as the primary method of communication for team info, which can dramatically speed up your job. However, there are other ways to make your job as team manager easier as well. Team management tools, like TeamSnap, automate a lot of these processes for you. In addition to letting you create, update and store a team roster, tools like TeamSnap let you see players’ availability for games and practices, assign snack duties and to keep track of who has paid their registration or uniform fees.

Have fun!

Finally, being a great team manager is about keeping the team running smoothly so the kids can have fun! And that’s what it’s really all about.

Want more tips? Check out or the TeamSnap Youth Sports Podcast for everything a coach, manager or sports parent needs. We’re here to make your managing and coaching experience as smooth and easy as possible!

About the author: Stephanie Myers is the content manager for TeamSnap, a web and mobile app used by 8 million coaches, parents, team managers and players to tame the logistical nightmare of wrangling schedules, practices, equipment and volunteers, providing up-to-the-second info on where everyone needs to be and what they need to bring.


COACHING TIPS: Let TeamSnap Simplify Your Sports Parenting Life

Three Ways Parents Can Guarantee a Great Start to Each Sports Season

 By Stephanie Myers, TeamSnap Content Manager

No matter what the sport, the start of a new season can be challenging —  not only for the players but also for their parents. A new season means new names to learn, new responsibilities to take on, schedules to adjust, and maybe even a new coach to get to know. But it’s all in the name of helping your young athletes play, which helps them stay active for life and learn the kind of team skills they will benefit from both now and later in life.

Start your season with greater ease using these tips from eight million customers worldwide. They all use TeamSnap to simplify being a youth sports parent.

Help the coach. Coaches (who are, of course, often volunteers) spend hours of time planning practices, scheduling games and mentoring your athletes, and many feel that often parents have only criticisms to offer. Try and turn that attitude around. Show the coach that there’s no better way to help the team and show the coach your appreciation than by volunteering to help. Organize the carpool or the snack duties. Take on ordering uniforms. Do whatever you can, and with team management apps that exist now, it’s much easier than ever before.

 Make friends with the team. You know that being on a team teaches a sense of community and trust to your child, so model the behavior you’d like to see by jumping in and being an active team parent. Offer to host a pre-season BBQ so everyone can get to know each other. Learn names and make friends. A team should be a real community for everyone involved — coaches, assistants, team managers, parents and players.

Watch your words! Being part of a team brings a sense of community, but it can also frustrate you at times. Maybe the coach doesn’t seem to appreciate your kid’s talents enough, or other parents are becoming rude during games. Maybe the officials aren’t on top of their stuff.

We all have been there, in one form or another, and too often we say something we instantly regret. Here’s quick but essential advice: When something truly annoys you, first take a deep breath and take a step back.

Then, think in advance of what you’re going to say. I know, it’s not always easy. But once you say something, it’s impossible to retrieve your words. They’re out there in the open. Think first before you talk!

Want more parenting tips and stories from the world of youth sports? Check out the TeamSnap Community page for everything a coach, manager or sports parent needs, or subscribe to


About the author: Stephanie Myers is the content manager for TeamSnap, a web and mobile app used by 8 million coaches, parents, team managers and players to tame the logistical nightmare of wrangling schedules, practices, equipment and volunteers, providing up-to-the-second info on where everyone needs to be and what they need to bring.



By Doug Abrams


A few years ago, one of my recent law students told me an astounding story about the high school JV football team that he and a friend were coaching as volunteers.  After practice shortly before the opening game, the pair hosted a team pizza party at their own expense. With a large roster of hungry football players, that’s a lot of pizza.

Most of the parents appreciated the coaches’ effort to bring the players together, but a few parents phoned the principal to complain that the coaches had not invited them to the party. “If we did not drive our kids to practice,” said one parent, “the coaches would have no team to coach.” The complaining parents withheld their thanks and said nothing about chipping in to help pay for the pizza. The principal supported the coaches.

 Today’s Challenges

This story of petty parental ingratitude illustrates how difficult, and sometimes downright aggravating, interscholastic or youth league coaching can be today. Earning players’ respect has always been challenging for coaches, but the late twentieth century brought obstacles unknown when I began coaching youth hockey in the late 1960s.

The point here is not to debate the merits or demerits of new challenges, or to arbitrate whether parents might be right or wrong in a particular disagreement with the coach. Sometimes parents become nuisances to the team, but sometimes parents correctly criticize the coach for crossing the line.  Parents and coaches alike make mistakes.

The point of the JV football story is that unprecedented pressures these days lead too many middle school and high school coaches to leave the coaching ranks before their time, and lead too many youth league coaches to remain active only for a few years while their own sons or daughters participate. “Long termers,” men and women with tenures measured in decades rather than years or months, seem a dying breed. When an experienced youth coach hangs up the whistle with more still to offer, the coach’s departure can deprive future players of valuable leadership and instruction. Talented coaches are hard to come by.

Middle school and high school coaches may leave because of sniping from parents whose real beef is that their children did not crack the starting lineup. Social media can make coaches fair game for critics emboldened by the anonymity of the keyboard. Coaches may sense that their reappointment each year depends more on the win-loss record than on whether the team plays to its potential, or whether the coaches teach citizenship lessons that parents say they want. When school administrators pressured by resistant parents countermand reasonable disciplinary decisions, the coach’s relatively modest stipend may seem not worth the cost of frequent year-round commitment.

The youth league coach’s lot may not be much better. Silence or conflicting signals from the board of directors may leave the coach at the mercy of parents who disagree among themselves about whether to provide each player reasonable playing time, or whether to play a “short bench” to win. Because volunteer youth league coaches normally make no pretense of being professional educators or professional coaches, they can be easy marks for parents who question their knowledge of the game and second-guess their decisions.  Whispering campaigns can be as mean spirited as at the high school level, and parents’ expectations about their children’s prospects for a college scholarship or other athletic advancement can be just as unreasonable.

Tomorrow’s Rewards

Whether to leave coaching is an individual decision for the coach and his or her family. The family figures into the mix because sooner or later, pressures on the coach usually also weigh heavily on the spouse and children. Because time spent coaching can intrude on family commitments, coaches and families must decide for themselves when coaching stops being time well spent.

But when a coach seriously weighing the pros and cons of turning away seeks my advice, I suggest considering not only today’s frustrations (which are real), but also the long-term rewards from years of continued service (which are also real). Here is what I tell them:

In the long run, dedicated youth coaches usually win deserved respect and affection because their players never forget. Coach-player relationships frequently ripen into lifelong friendships based on good memories and mutual esteem. Most of my former players range in age from their early 20s to their early 50s. It is quite a charge when one phones, emails, or approaches me in the grocery store with, “Hey Coach, remember me? You coached me 25 years ago.”

The teacher-student bond can be one of life’s most lasting relationships, behind only the parent-child and child-sibling bonds. Interscholastic coaches and their youth league counterparts are teachers, and players are their students. For a coach with more yet to offer, resisting today’s pressures to quit can bank “deferred compensation” for a job well done, redeemable years later in the form of lasting shared memories.

COACHING TIPS: A New Batch of Idea for Youth Coaches Everywhere

I routinely jot down coaching tips and insights that I find to be both inspirational and instructional when it comes to working with young athletes, and every so often, I like to post these thoughts on this website in the hope that one or two of these tips might be of some use to you. Here, in no particular order, are from my latest batch:

COACHING TIP #1: When I was the head baseball coach at Mercy College, in my first couple of years, I would of course watch every pitch of the game, shout out encouragement to my players, and in short, try very hard to be an upbeat, positive coach all the time.

But one day, I was chatting with one of my better players, and casually asked him if there were anything in my approach during the games that bothered or annoyed my players.

In truth, I honestly thought he would say, “No, Rick, the team is winning, and you’re doing great.”

But much to my amazement, he told me, “Well, now that you ask….during the course of a close or tight game, you tend to pace back and forth in the dugout, and the more you pace, the more nervous you make us on the field.”

“That is, you always tell us to play relaxed,…but clearly you’re extremely nervous…that’s why you pace.”

It was a tremendous observation, and one that I have never forgotten. My pacing was an unconscious nervous habit. So I just made it a point to stop walking back and forth like a caged animal during close games. And the more confident I seemed, the more confident my players became.

I would encourage you to watch how you physically behave during the games, lest you make the same mistake as I did. Remember, you may not be aware that your physical anxiety is actually making your players nervous as well.

COACHING TIP #2….I heard Coach K of Duke talk about how to install a real level of confidence in his players, and I think it’s great.

Talk to any kid playing competitive basketball, and he/she will always tell you that during the course of a game, they will secretly keep an eye on their coach, just in case the kid commits a turnover and makes a mistake. The player wants to see if the coach might take him/her out of the game for making that error.

So how does a great coach convince his players not to worry about that? Coach K instills his faith in his players by telling them over and over, “I believe in you.” Meaning I trust you, and don’t worry about making mistakes. Just play on. 

As a coach, it’s a good thing to remind your players that they will, in fact, make mistakes and errors….that’s to be expected. But the more you can reassure your players that you believe in them, the more they will relax and the faster they will begin to play up to their potential.

Think about that….it’s a very simple but most powerful approach to coaching kids. I believe in you.

COACHING TIP #3…..I have talked a lot over the years about accountability….making your players think for themselves, both on and off the field.

I think that if you, as a coach, can succeed in getting your players to do this, then regardless of your season’s won-loss record, you have really make a major impact on their total lives.

Why? Because if a young person thinks twice before breaking a team rule, or doing something stupid, or posting something silly on Facebook or Twitter, then you have really made a major breakthrough in terms of their learning accountability.

I was talking about Joe Moglia of Coastal Carolina on the show last week – about how amazingly successful he has been in his three years at Coastal as their head coach. Joe preaches a very simple philosophy which is ALL about accountability…he simply calls it BE A MAN….that means that you have to step up and take responsibility for yourself in life and in sports. That’s the key to Joe’s success in life, and clearly his players are Coastal Carolina have bought into it.

(By the way, it was interesting to see how the Wall Street Journal  jumped on the Coach Moglia bandwagon this past week, and basically endorsed him to become the next head coach of the Jets, in case Rex Ryan is asked to step down.)

COACHING TIP #4…I was playing in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League for Al Goldis, who went onto become one of the great baseball scouts of all time. In any event, when one of our players had done something that was clearly against team rules, Goldis came up with a terrific way to not only discipline the individual player, but also to drive the point home.

In short, Goldis gave the player an assignment to write a 3 page essay in which he had to explain not only what he had done wrong, but also had to explain why his actions were selfish and hurt the entire team.

Now, most college and HS kids hate having to write papers, and Goldis latched onto that, and sure enough, not only did the miscreant player write the essay and read it to the rest of the team, it clearly served its purpose: we didn’t have any more disciplinary issues the rest of the season.

I thought it was a brilliant way to coach and teach kids to become accountable and to learn their lesson.

COACHING TIP #5: ….the issue of appointing team captains. Now, I know a lot of coaches like to appoint team captains on their own. Or sometimes, they let the team elect captains at the start of the season.

My approach was always a little different. My sense is that captains are supposed to be team leaders….and if you let kids practice and scrimmage long enough in the preseason, eventually the REAL team leaders will begin to bubble up naturally.

The truth is…some kids are just innate leaders, and they don’t need to be elected or appointed. Besides, some kids don’t want the responsibility of being a team leader…they just don’t like that role – they feel it places too much pressure on them.

My point is…there’s no obligation to appoint or elect team captains.

COACHING TIP #6….I think Coach John Wooden is to be credited with this coaching tip….for every negative comment, be sure to give your player at least four positive comments.

It’s excellent advice. Kids today want and expect positive feedback all the time. And if you give them only negative comments, eventually they won’t respond to you. Nobody likes a steam of negative feedback.

Instead, feed them a steady diet of at least 4 positive comments for every negative comment….that way, when you do feel you have to step in and make a correction, they will pay a lot more attention to what you have to say.

Just be sure that you give them another pat on the back after they make that correction. Let your players know you’re rooting for them and supporting them.

COACHING TIP #7….always remember this.

You have ONE singular power as the coach. You control who gets into the game, and for how long.

At the end of the day, that’s what the players want – to get into the game. And you control that.

So if you aren’t pleased with a player’s  attitude…or their lack of hustle…or their poor sportsmanship, you just say to them, “I want you to stay with me on the bench and you’ll sit here until you understand what I want to see from you. Do you understand?”

Yes, this might be tough to do when it’s your most talented player on the sidelines, but you know what? Do this once or twice early in the season, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly attitudes begin to turn around when you make your point.

Remember: you’re the coach. Make the kids respond to you!

COACHING TIPS: The Best Coaches Know the Power of Listening…

“The Sounds of Silence”:

Why Adults Should Listen to What Players Do Not Say

By Doug Abrams


A few years ago, my 9-10-year-old squirt hockey team held a practice three days before we played in the state championship tournament’s final game. By rotating games all season, our two goalies had helped keep us in title contention. Because we did not want benchwarmers, a goalie would skate as a forward in the games he was not scheduled to start in the nets.

Before the practice, I talked with the younger goalie, whose turn it was to play. In a tentative tone of voice, he told me that he thought he could help the team more if he skated as a forward in the title game.  I heard what he was saying, but I thought I also heard what he was not saying, namely that he did not want to play in goal. I discussed the conversation with his parents, who agreed to adjusting the normal goalie rotation, which we did.

We won the final game, and the state championship, that weekend.

Listening to More Than Words

This story carries worthwhile lessons for parents and coaches alike. When adults ask about the game, players typically chatter away. Win or lose, most young athletes like talking about themselves, their teams, and their sports experiences most of the time.

Like the rest of us, however, young athletes sometimes convey messages by non-verbal communication – by their action or inaction, body language, tone of voice, and other tell-tale signs.  Sometimes they drop hints, or say one thing and mean another. Young players may feel unable or unwilling to say something outright, but what players do not say can alert parents and coaches who are perceptive enough to “listen.”

What if for three consecutive weeks, for example, a player complains of a headache or upset stomach a half hour before it is time to leave for practice and asks to be excused from attendance? Or if the player continually appears sullen and withdrawn on the way to games, or in the locker room? Something may be wrong because chronically wanting to avoid practice, or chronically avoiding teammates and locker room camaraderie, is simply not normal for most kids.

That “something” may relate to the player’s emotional or physical well-being, or to team chemistry. Perhaps, for example, the player does not want to play the sport any more, which is OK because youngsters’ interests do change. Perhaps the coach verbally abuses the player and teammates at practice or in the locker room when parents are not watching. One or more teammates may be bullying the player, or the player may feel embarrassed for being one of the team’s smaller or less talented players. Perhaps the player is hiding an injury, or remains unsure about its potential seriousness.

Of course, nothing may be wrong at all. Players may appear sullen and withdrawn, for example, from the usual pregame butterflies. Players’ apparent disinterest may simply signal ordinary late-season fatigue, a matter that coaches and parents should try to remedy, but that does not raise especial concern.

“The Sounds of Silence”

One way or the other, parents cannot enlist help from coaches, and coaches cannot provide that help, unless the adults remain alert for potential problems. This alertness sometimes comes from more than the player’s words. Remember Simon and Garfunkel’s 1960s hit song, “The Sounds of Silence”: “People talking without speaking/ People hearing without listening. . . / Hear my words that I might teach you.”