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Coaching Youth Sports: 5 Tips That Make a Great Coach

Coaching Youth Sports: 5 Tips That Make a Great Coach

Youth Sports

Being a youth sports coach is a rewarding career for any coach who loves to teach and inspire young athletes. 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 to see 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.

Mastering one’s emotions is 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 tips designed to maximize their potential as a coach while ensuring their players are continually improving in a safe yet challenging and fun environment.

Team huddle with coach and athletes on the court

How to Be a Good Coach in Sports

1. Set goals

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:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic, and 
  • Time-bound

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 achievable to set yourself a goal of going 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 Coaching Software to Help

Coaches have been trading in pen and paper evaluations to now using the SkillShark app. This allows coaches to analyze player data more effectively while improving feedback to athletes.

Player Reports

Instantly view and send individual player reports after each evaluation. This helps youth athletes understand exactly what they need to work on.

Compare Players

Compare the results of two or more youth players to select top athletes and define benchmarks.

Progress Tracking

Use SkillShark to track their players’ development over a series of evaluations

2. Foster a positive team environment

Building a positive team environment is probably the most critical part of any coach’s role, particularly when youth coaches. 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
  • Fun
  • Non-judgmental
  • Inclusive 
  • Positive

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.

3. Provide 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.

4. 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 & online articles.
  • Learn to evaluate your performance.
  • Keep current with new sports technology.

5. Put 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 due to feeling defeated or unsatisfied with the game.

Coach Evaluation Form vs. Coach Evaluation App

Setting goals, providing athlete feedback, and continual learning are all required to make a well-rounded youth sports coach. However, coaches often overlook what type of system they will use to conduct evaluations. Will they resort to the pen-and-paper coach evaluation forms, or will they consider using an evaluation software to streamline the process?”

You might be thinking, “How does the system I use to conduct athlete evaluations reflect my abilities as a coach?” Evaluations are more than just scoring athletes and making team placement decisions. Athletes are seeking a granular level of feedback from their coaches. When using software instead of a coach evaluation form, athletes can receive the level of feedback they are seeking.

When a coach evaluates players using the SkillShark Athlete Evaluation App, scores are entered on a mobile device or tablet. Individual reports are then automatically generated for each player, eliminating the need for coaches to select and format that data in Excel. Individual reports will include everything from notes left by evaluators, videos taken at the event, and individual scores for each skill assessed.

Individual report

Individual reports in SkillShark

Wrapping Up

Coaching youth sports is an extremely rewarding role regardless of the level you coach at. But remember, as a coach, learning and development never comes to an end. And it’s important to get the most out of yourself, both 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.

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FAQ — Coaching Youth Sports

Junior athletes might have a harder time feeling confident in their skills on the ice, court, or field as they are in their formative years. Therefore, youth coaches must provide positive reinforcement and mentorship, and relay feedback in a gentle manner.

As youth athletes gain confidence, improve their skills, and form strong bonds with other athletes throughout the season, it is rewarding as a coach to watch them grow.

A good youth sports coach sets goals for their players, provides non-judgemental feedback, and fosters an inclusive and positive team environment.

Some key responsibilities include: developing game strategies, providing player feedback, implementing practice drills, prioritizing player safety, and building a positive team culture.

1) Provide feedback in a non-judgemental manner.
2) Focus on providing feedback through written comments, not scores.
3) Act a mentor, not just a coach.

When a coach evaluates players using the SkillShark Athlete Evaluation app, scores are entered on a mobile device or tablet. Individual reports are then automatically generated for each player, eliminating the need for coaches to select and format data in Excel.

If a traditional coach evaluation form was used, coaches would have to manually enter scores on paper forms, spend countless hours entering data from the forms to speadsheets, and then configure that data in Excel to run presentable reports they can send to athletes.

Brenton Barker

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.