In youth sports, a good coach can make all the difference
Posted by Dean Holden at May 31st, 2013
by Josette Plank, 16 May 2013
Last weekend, my daughter’s soccer team played a tough game.
No one got a participation trophy. No one got a gold medal for showing up.
Two days later, the parents and players did receive an email from the coach. It’s not unusual for this coach to send us recaps of each game. And after a win, it must be easy for a coach to give out “attagirls.”
But this time, the girls had lost.
“Yesterday’s loss was probably the most difficult loss of our season,” the coach wrote.
“After the game, were you disappointed? I imagine you were. But, did you congratulate the other the team with a smile on your face? Did you thank the referee even without me mentioning it? Yes!”
The coach went on to commend the girls for their good sportsmanship. He noted how the girls kept pushing themselves on the field, even when they were tired and the game wasn’t going their way. He told the girls he appreciated their efforts for the team.
He told the girls he was proud of them.
If I had to point to an example of a good youth sports coach, I’d point to my daughter’s soccer coach. He has a knack for highlighting success. He helps each player recognize her own hard work, as well areas for improvement. And his players want to work hard because they know – win or lose – hard work will be appreciated.
Before my own kids got involved in sports – soccer, figure skating, gymnastics, and now, ice hockey – I didn’t give much thought to quality coaching.
Growing up, I took gymnastics lessons once a week. But my back handspring never progressed beyond a back head-squash, as if I were intentionally trying to break my own neck. In high school softball, my position was bench cheerleader.
I tried at sports, but was never encouraged to try very hard. I set tentative goals, but without much support. I counted failures more than successes. When I finally quit, everyone sighed in relief. Even my softball glove whispered, “Amen.”
Could better coaching have made a difference?
Who knows? I once dreamed that even Bela Karolyi suggested I stick with rock collecting.
Maybe my coaches didn’t get it completely wrong. But there are many youth coaches who know how to get it very, very right.
My sister says her kids’ developmental-level soccer coach gave all children plenty of game time and noted each child’s accomplishments.
“A scoring play was given the same praise as a good pass as was enthusiastic pursuit of the ball. I wish all coaches could be like him.”
My friend in Lancaster says her preteen daughter has played for many wonderful youth coaches, but two stand out. With these two coaches, building and improving skills always came first.
“Games were fun and an opportunity [for players] to do their best. But games were not the be-all, end-all. Each mistake in a game gave players an opportunity to revisit, rethink, and do better next time.”
Good coaches don’t sugarcoat poor playing or weak skills, but they don’t harp on negatives, either. Regardless of skill level, good coaches motivate improvement by helping kids set individual goals. Good coaches are kind, but tough; they expect respect, both for themselves and for each teammate.
My husband remembers his favorite baseball coaches telling kids to “have fun,” but those coaches also walked their talk and didn’t become ogres at game time.
A young skater in my carpool added, “Adults need to act like they really like coaching kids. But kids can’t goof off.” The girls agreed that sometimes athletes have to get serious during training so they can have fun using new skills in competition.
I wonder where they heard that?
Our skating coach nurtures my teenage daughter through a rough patch, but also knows when to push skaters to meet a challenge. My 6-year-old son’s ice hockey coach reminds parents that working hard to stay upright on thin blades counts as a success. Counting goals will come later.
I say all these coaches deserve a gold medal.
A few days ago, a mom wrote to me about her son’s basketball coach. At the end of each season, this coach types a summary sheet for each child.
“The sheets had a full paragraph explaining in specific detail what the kid had done particularly well that season and why the coaches were proud of him, followed by a full paragraph of skills to practice and goals to set in the offseason so that they would come back stronger.”
So many coaches who do more than just show up.
So many kids who work hard to win, but who don’t give up when they lose.
Who needs participation trophies?