Coaching Youth Sports: 5 Tips That Make A Great Coach
Despite what people might think, coaching is not an easy profession, and the job can get even tougher when you’re coaching youth sports.
There is no doubt about it, youth sports are fun to coach, and it’s rewarding seeing athletes you’ve coached progress their way through the ranks. I’ve had the privilege of guiding numerous junior athletes through to the pro ranks, and it’s one of the most rewarding parts of my career to date.
But junior athletes are emotional too, and if coaches don’t have the appropriate skills and experience to deal with certain situations, things can spiral out of control. Mastering one’s emotions are integral to the success of any athlete, so as a coach, one of your most critical roles is to guide juniors through the emotional roller coaster that is youth sport.
This article will provide coaches with 5 top tips designed to maximize their potential as a coach while ensuring their players are continually improving in a safe yet challenging and FUN environment.
What We’ll Look At:
- The Power Of Goal Setting
- Fostering A Positive Team Environment
- Giving Feedback
- Keeping Things In Perspective
- An Eagle Eye
1. The Power Of Goal Setting
As a coach, if you want to get the most out of yourself and your players, the first skill you’ll need to master is the art of goal setting. But not just setting any goals, I’m talking about setting SMART goals.
SMART goals are:
- Realistic, and
As a rule of thumb, coaches should set goals based on the SMART principle. The focus on achieving those goals should be on improving player performance rather than the goal itself. Although this seems counter-intuitive, it’s not. Focusing on performance makes you much more likely to stick to the task, especially when the game is on the line.
When setting goals for yourself or your team, they must be achievable. For instance, is it really achievable to set yourself a goal as a coach to go undefeated for the season? While it could happen, it’s far from likely. Setting unachievable or “unrealistic” goals can damage team morale and derail an otherwise promising season.
Finally, goals should be flexible; it’s important to continually re-evaluate them for their relevance. Doing this will help you gauge whether or not the goals are still achievable and realistic within the time frame you’ve set.
Using SkillShark Software makes it easier for coaches to understand where their athletes are both mentally and physically. Athlete performance data is most often collected during an evaluation.
Using Software to help
Coaches have been trading in pen and paper evaluations to now using the SkillShark App. This allows them to do more with their player data, while improving feedback to athletes and enhancing overall performance.
Instantly view and send individual player reports after each evaluation. This helps athletes understand exactly what they need to work on.
Compare the results of two or more players. Coaches will often use this for benchmarking or selecting top athletes.
Track Player Progress
Coaches can use SkillShark to track their player progress and development over a series of events
2. Fostering A Positive Team Environment
Building a positive team environment is probably the most critical part of any coach’s role, particularly when coaching youth sports. As a head coach, you are directly responsible for creating an environment that fosters a growth mindset in the junior athletes you’re coaching.
A positive team environment should be:
- Challenging and positive
- Inclusive, and
- Player specific
Another valuable skill is emphasizing players being task-driven rather than results-based. Junior athletes, in particular, need to know they’re improving, and when solely focusing on results, it’s easy to overlook the little wins along the way. These “little wins” help boost players’ confidence, which is particularly important for youth athletes.
In a team environment, focusing solely on results can harm team morale and lead to dangerous rivalries between teammates. As a coach, you must continuously reinforce teamwork, communication, and camaraderie among players, coaches, and parents.
3. Giving Feedback
Another critical skill great coaches have is their ability to deliver positive, timely, and practical feedback. Put simply, when junior athletes receive no feedback, they’re like a boat without a rudder, they might reach their destination, but it will take blind luck to get there.
Giving positive feedback is not easy, though. For instance, if you’re too lenient on a player, you risk not pushing them enough. Alternatively, if you criticize a player too harshly, they can lose confidence in you, which is the last thing any coach wants.
In my experience, if you’re unsure what type of feedback to give, then focus on providing positive feedback. Just make sure you do it authentically. Junior athletes are very perceptive and can tell if you’re “disingenuous.”
Finally, as with most things, timing is everything, and giving feedback is no different. Junior athletes can be emotional after a loss, so give them time to digest their emotions before providing feedback.
With certain professional players, I found it better to give feedback the following day at the hotel breakfast table. Generally speaking, players are more receptive to feedback in the morning, especially if the coffee and croissants are scrumptious.
Using SkillShark makes it easy for coaches to provide feedback to athletes. When a coach chooses to evaluate players using the SkillShark app, the data is automatically synced. This means instant feedback reports are generated for each player. The feedback reports will include everything from notes left by evaluators, videos taken at the event, including individual scores on each metric.
Please note: SkillShark is completely customizable, meaning if you want to show comment-only feedback, you could design a report specifically for your younger athletes (see left image).
4. Great Coaches Never Stop Learning
Many coaches do not place enough emphasis on continued learning. I’ve seen this phenomenon, particularly with professional coaches who think they’ve arrived at the top and their job is done. It generally doesn’t go well for these coaches.
Here are some simple ways coaches can continue their learning:
- Find a mentor
- Attend coaches conferences
- Continue your education by enrolling in courses.
- Read books
- Learn to evaluate your performance
- Keep current with new technology
If you are unsure of the steps to continue your coach development, contact your local governing body, as they should have an abundance of resources to help you on your coaching journey.
Remember, your players are looking to you for advice and guidance. And as my coaching mentor, Bob Brett, once told me, “the players are only as good as their coach.”
5. Keeping Things In Perspective
Coaching can be a hectic, emotional roller coaster, so taking a step back every now and then is important. Doing this helps to keep things in perspective, especially if you’re a coach with a young family. Yes, it would be great to win the Nationals, but as the adage goes, “the winning is in the journey.”
A big part of your coaching role is to teach players the importance of doing their best rather than promoting a “winning at all costs mindset. At the end of the day, sports should be fun, and the last thing we want to see is junior athletes dropping out.
Coaching junior sports is a blast and is an extremely rewarding role regardless of the level you coach at.
But remember, as a coach, your learning and development never come to an end, and it’s important to get the most out of yourself, professionally and personally.
This way, you improve as a coach and give your players the best chance to develop the physical, emotional, and mental skills needed to be successful on and off the field
Interested to learn more about SkillShark?
Click HERE to book your free product demo and receive a 25-player free trial.
About The Author
Brenton Barker: Former Professional Sports Coach/Manager
Brenton is an Australian with 20 years of experience working with professional athletes. These athletes have combined to win more than ten international events. He holds a Degree in Sports Coaching and was the former Head Advisor to the Japanese Government Sports Institute.