Well, it is another year of coaching my kids and their sports. It is pretty cool to think about all of the kids I have coached over the past 11 years. From the time Josh was a Purple Shark soccer player in Georgia, to this Bills football season with Theo in Illinois, I have coached all three of my kids’ teams every year in baseball, soccer, basketball, softball, football, skiing and a lot of other activities.
Team sports and coaching kids are rewarding for me. I have to tell you, I have a hard time ‘sitting on the bleachers’ and just being a parent. It is a very fun and exciting time in a kid’s life, and it is critical for them to have the right coach. Not only for that particular sport, but for everything they can learn about life. Positive life lessons happen commonly in youth sports, and it is so encouraging when you connect with a kid and they ‘hear’ what you are saying…and even improve in that sport.
My goal with every team I have ever coached is simple, although we try to win every game and I teach them to be competitive, it does not matter if we win or lose. The two goals I have for each kid is for them to 1) learn the sport and get better, and 2) have so much fun and enjoy whatever game we were playing, that they ask their parents to sign them up the next year. In all my coaching years (which I hope are not over), I only had one boy not sign up the next year. I had a kid move out of state after they signed up for the next year and their parents told the organization to keep their deposit because they had such a great year that they wanted to donate it to a kids that could not afford it, I had girls playing baseball switch to softball, I even had 18 kid requests to be on my tee ball team one year because of the power of teaching lessons through coaching.
Every year before every season of each sport, there is always coaching training and sessions to attend. This year during football preseason, and my fourth season as an assistant coach for football, it was required of all coaches in the program to attend a Positive Coaching Alliance seminar. I have to say, this was one of the best programs I have ever attended for youth coaching. It shared most of the principles I have been using over the past decade, and spoke very negatively toward the ‘win at any cost’ and ‘negative or yelling’ coaches. It was refreshing to hear that kids learn through positive reinforcement and fun, and not just pressure from coaches and parents.
This organization reaches from the beginner youth coach, all the way up to professional sports. In fact, Phil Jackson is one of their main spokespeople. He said in a video that he uses these same principles for his NBA stars. Everyone wants to be told how good they are, but they struggle when told to do better or to do something different — that is human nature. If you surround yourself with constructive criticism and teaching techniques with positive reinforcement, your athlete will not only hear you, but try harder themselves to accomplish the goal or task.
Herm Edwards was also a featured video speaker in this program. Everyone remembers his post-game interview where he repeated “We play to win the game” and he is right. Teaching competitiveness to athletes is a good thing, as long as you also have a second goal when you coach. “The Power of Double Goal Coaching” which was the book given at the seminar I attended, shared that the first goal was to coach to win the game. However, the second goal, and the more important goal, was to teach life lessons with your coaching. As much as everyone remembers what Herm said about how you play, he also said “In the end, there will be a winner and a loser. What is important is how you handle it.” This entire statement and philosophy is paramount to the most effective and influential coaches in my playing career, and in my life growing up. Winning is a bi-product of teaching how to develop the talents to compete. In PCA, there is no place for the win-at-all-cost mentality.
When asked at the seminar to remember a coach from your playing career who was influential, several of the other coaches spoke, and their comments resembled my own life. Some remembered great coaches and great games, but most remembered the one coach that took the fun out of the game and was only about winning. Not all were at the youth level, mine was in high school, and some in the room were from college. Now that is not to say there were not stories of great coaches who wanted to win and teach how to win, it is just the way they teach their methods. The number one reason that kids play sports is for fun. 70% of kids don’t play sports anymore at the age of 13 because they are no longer having fun. For these kids, their memory may remain a coach that took the fun out of the game for them, and that is simply not an option for me.
“Five to one, baby, one in five” are lyrics in a song by Jim Morrison and the Doors. It is also the principle I have been using, and one I was retaught recently, about the number of positive statements to negative statements (or corrections) coaches should use when developing young players. Kids do not hear the positives, all they hear are the negatives. So, when you sandwich one negative or correction of how to do something better with four or five other positive comments, they hear they are improving, they feel good about where they are, and they take the correction as a step in the right direction. They try and enjoy trying. It is an easy thing to do, if you think about it. In the case of players that need more ‘coaching’ than others, start with the basics and break every task or movement down into small tasks. “Great location of your hands on the bat, you are in the right spot in the box, your feet are good, your knees are good, now try to hold the bat upright with your hands by your ears as if you are on the phone with someone talking loud.” Or “good three point stance, your hand is in the right spot, your feet are spread wide, you are balanced and ready, now remember to step forward with your blocking side foot first as you fire out at the defense”.
I always try not to use the word ‘but’ when coaching. It takes away from whatever is before the ‘but’, making it less important. I try to build upon where they are in their ‘game’ and start with the good. The most challenging position I was put in was with a player was literally starting from scratch. It was the second game of our house baseball season and literally five minutes before the game a new player was not only assigned to my team, but he showed up with a brand new bat (in the wrapper) and a glove (with the tags still on it) for his first ever game. This would have been easier if it were t-ball or coach pitch, but it was the third year our kids had seen kids pitch to them, and some of the players really threw hard (45-50 mph from 42′). Well, that first game did not go over very well for that one player, but by the end of the season, that boy was on base, stealing, and was able to get in front of the ball in the field And, best of all, he signed up for next season at early enrollment. That is what it is all about!
There are a lot of tools, techniques and coaching skills for staying within this model. www.positivecoach.org is the website to the organization that taught the seminar that I attended, and I believe it is a great seminar for anyone who coaches or teaches kids. Another good book recommended to me by a great baseball coach for one of my kids, I read is called No More Broken Eggs, by Tom Morin. It is a book written by a sports psychologist about the mental aspects of the athlete and is basically a series of case studies that talk about what specific athletes go through, from a pressure standpoint, when playing. It is a good book, and one of the key takeaways for me was that here in the US, we start our kids competing at a very young age compared to some other countries. Other countries don’t get serious about sports until 13 or so, right when our kids are dropping out because the competition and pressure is no longer fun. If we kept it fun and taught fundamentals until 13, we might get more kids playing and having fun longer. Wouldn’t that be great?
I am considering writing another post about the specific techniques and practice drills I like, but I am definitely willing to share with anyone (including my competitors) my practice plans or coaching theories because, at the youth sports level, teaching them to love the game, focus on techniques while trying to win and have fun along the way is the only way to teach. I want kids to remember me as the coach that taught them to love the game we are playing and gave them the skills they need to compete for the rest of their lives, not only in that specific sport. After all, Herm Edwards also said “when the book of your life is written, what will be your legacy?”