Youth recreational sports coaches wear many hats – leader, organizer, motivator, counselor, and my favorite: Teacher. It is also one of the more important roles a coach plays. The coach teaches the rules, the skills, and the tactics of the game. While doing so, a good coach also teaches compassion and discipline. Recently, I recognized that a baseball team I was helping coach – I joined in the middle of the season – didn’t seem to have the fundamentals down in many areas. I’m not sure if the head coach didn’t teach them at all or if the kids had forgotten. In any event, when I helped at the first couple of practices, it seemed the head coach expected the players to perform at a level above what I could tell they were. For instance, we were taking infield – the coach hits ground balls to the players in the infield and they practice fielding the ball and throwing to the assigned base. After the first round through the infield, I could see the players didn’t demonstrate the correct way to field a ground ball. I stopped the drill and called the infielders into the center of the diamond. I borrowed one of the players’ gloves and I taught them the proper way to come in on a ground ball, field it in front of them, pull the ball in, and then get into a good throwing position. In teaching a group of under 10-year olds, I told them what they should do, showed them how to do it myself, and then had them show me they could do it. Notice that, in showing me they could do it properly, they were convincing themselves they could do it themselves. I then had them return to their positions and we started the drill again. When the players fielded the ball correctly – whether they actually fielded the ball or it got by them – I praised them for doing it right. When they didn’t field the ball correctly, I stopped and reminded them how to do it right and in some cases, showed them.
I can’t tell if I think teaching is the most important role a coach plays or if that is just because it’s my favorite part. It is incredibly rewarding when I see a player who previously didn’t perform a skill correctly pay attention, learn, try, and eventually become proficient in the skill. At all youth levels, one of the primary goals for the players is to learn how to play the game right. Coincidentally, there’s a reason that there’s a right way to perform these game skills – they lead to success in the game; and being successful in the games is fun. Too many coaches either assume a level of proficiency in the fundamentals or disregard the importance of them. I would start each flag football season showing the players the proper way to throw and catch a football. Remember, no matter what age the players you are coaching, it could still be a player’s first year playing the sport. The first couple of practices should be devoted to reinforcing the fundamentals – which will involve teaching the fundamentals . If during these practices, you realize that the players already are proficient in the fundamentals, then by all means move on to the higher-level skills and strategies. It doesn’t do any good to hit grounders to kids to practice to get proficient at where to throw the ball in different situations if they can’t field the ball correctly or to work on your passing offense if the players can’t reliably throw or catch a football.
In addition to teaching the skills of the sport, a good coach also will demonstrate compassion and discipline that the kids will pick up on. I’ll start with the second one: discipline. I don’t mean when a coach disciplines a player for bad behavior – although bad behavior should be corrected. I mean the discipline of recognizing there is a correct way to do something and having the persistence to keep trying until it is done right. Kids need to discipline themselves to listen to instruction and to eagerly attempt a new or advanced skill. They have to be open to criticism when they do not perform the skill correctly and have the right attitude about understanding what they did wrong and trying again. One way a coach can gain the confidence of their players is to show compassion and recognizing every player isn’t going to pick up the skill correctly the first time. Compassionate coaches work with all their players, regardless of skill level and ability to improve.
Teaching players to be better at the sport is a key characteristic of Hustle & Attitude coaches.