Effectively Using Assistant Coaches in Youth Sports

As I mentioned in my previous post, in order to run effective practices – in fact, to help ensure a successful season overall – head coaches/managers need good assistant coaches.  I always ask parents to help out in my welcome letter .  In my experience, there are several who are very willing to help out.  If you don’t get enough who are willing, it is also my experience that there are usually a couple who, with a little coaxing, would gladly help out at practice.  In the case where there are no outright volunteers, assure the parents that you will give them everything they need to help out at practice.  Tell them how you will show them how to execute the drills correctly.  Assure them that you will take the hardest and most complicated drills yourself.  If all else fails, remind them that they most likely will be hanging around practice – the days of parents dropping their kids off for practice and running errands as my parents did are gone – they might as well help out.

Here are some techniques for effectively using your assistant coaches:

  • If necessary, remind them that this is youth recreational sports.  Recall that, if the parents were schooled in coaching the sport you’re coaching, they likely would have volunteered to be the head coach.  Many of the parents will only have their own youth sports experiences to go build on for coaching.  And, if the last time they were coached in sports was in high school, that type of aggressive attitude is not appropriate for youth recreational sports. Also, this is recreational sports and not select/travel sports (which are different).
  • Give them everything they need.  If you are going to ask them to run a drill, particularly one that involves a deliberate technique that you want to make sure the athletes learn and repeat; make sure to provide enough information to the assistant coach.  I’ve brought the books where I found the drill or a printout of the explanation of how to execute the technique properly and shared that with the assistant coach.  Try not to do this right before they are expected to run the drill.  If you can email it to them ahead of time, that’s the best.  If not, meet with the assistant coaches while the players are warming up and go over the drills you are going to run in practice.  If any of them have any questions, you can then provide them the background material to prepare them while the athletes are otherwise engaged.
  • Don’t micromanage them.  I can be a bit of a control freak.  I want the players to learn the skill or technique and to be corrected if they aren’t doing it properly.  I have a way I like to explain how to do the techniques.  However, if we’re going to run multiple drills at the same time – and WE ARE, right – then I have to be comfortable with letting the assistant coaches handle the presentation of the technique and the correction of the players, as necessary.  A couple of ways to handle this include:
    • Take the more complicated drills yourself.  At our first practice, I wanted to be the coach that showed the players how to cover first base correctly.  It can be a complicated procedure and I wanted to make sure the players heard it from me and that I watched each of them try it.  That left the other two drills to the assistant coaches.  I made some quick suggestions to the coaches of the technique to describe to the players and what to watch for (and correct), then set them off to run their drills.
    • Show the players (and coaches) the correct technique, as I present it, all at once before breaking into the smaller groups.  A technique I am considering is to have the team and coaches together before we go through the drills and doing the instruction myself.  In that way, everyone sees the correct way to perform the technique (assistant coaches, included) and hears it from me.  I would go through the three drills one at a time, then release the groups to go with their assistant coaches and execute them.

So far this season, we actually have more assistant coaches than I had immediate need for.  I could delegate each of the drill stations to an assistant coach and then I could be a floater; moving from drill to drill and assisting in the explanation and correction during execution of the drills.  I’m toying with trying this in my next practice.  [See my self-described control freak nature above though, as why this might not happen]  I’m also going to make sure I tell all the parents who are interested in helping that, if they see something during practice where they could add value, to by all means jump in.  At a recent practice, one of the player’s parents who wanted to help, but wasn’t assigned a drill or other specific role in practice, gathered the balls after rounds of live hitting and returned them to the bucket.  This allowed the other coaches to keep coaching and sped the practice along as the players didn’t need to shag the balls.  I really appreciate that initiative and will encourage that with the other parents.

No matter how good the head coach/manager is, there are too many players on the team for them to be able to run effective practices themselves.  By encouraging parents to help out, a coach gets the assistance he or she needs to be successful.  Ensuring the assistants have the right youth sports mindset, providing them the resources they need to effectively help out, and then letting them be to do their thing will lighten the head coach’s load and help make the season better for the children.

Published by Chad Millette

I am a father, a husband, a retired Air Force officer, and a dedicated youth recreational sports advocate.

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