Imagine for a moment that you have a time machine and you travel back to visit your old youth sports coach. What would that experience look like?
You might thank him for teaching you a specific skill or for leading you to a state championship.
Perhaps, you want to express gratitude to him for helping you learn discipline. Maybe you would tell him that he was responsible for showing you the value of never giving up.
As the case may be, his impact may have meant more. Did he change your life?
The goal for every youth sports program is to grow coaches into leaders that have positive, powerful, far-reaching, impact on the youth of today.
With the many different personalities and varied programs, this can seem like an overwhelming task.
It’s important to start with a working definition of what a successful coach looks like:
- A true measure of a coach’s effectiveness is the distance a young person travels in their athletic journey.
A working definition of a successful leader is something more.
- A true measure of a leader’s effectiveness is the distance a young person travels in their life journey.
In other words, how has a coach impacted the athlete’s skill development from the beginning of the season to the end of it? Just as importantly, how has he/she influenced the personal growth of the young athlete?
Here are three areas that you can train your staff to focus on when evaluating their efforts.
Meet Youth Sports Athletes in Their Need
“What is the highest priority need(s) of each athlete in my charge?”
Coaches that ask this question and pay attention to the answer have a direct roadmap for reaching their kids.
For example, some child athletes’ highest priority need is for self-discipline or hard work or self-control or personal responsibility. Encourage your coaching staff to adjust their approach accordingly, as ultimately it is the coach’s responsibility to meet the athlete in their need.
Some youth sports coaches will respond naturally in this way. However, for others, it will be a learned response.
Here are some things that a coach should keep on his/her radar when trying to meet the needs of athletes:
- Ask how kids are doing in school and show you genuinely care about tests and assignments they are working on.
- Offer additional help if a child is lagging behind on a physical skill.
- Customize your approach in recognition of a child’s level of intensity out on the field and/or their competitive drive.
Learn About Them on a Personal Level
Digging deeper to get to know each athlete personally can be the most challenging part of successful coaching.
For coaches that are task-oriented or skill-focused this can seem like just an extra duty.
However, when an athlete feels that his/her coach “gets” him – when the coach has made an effort to learn more than just the athletic side of an individual – coaching credibility increases.
Confidence is often a by-product of these strong connections.
Encourage your coaching staff to commit to learning about each of their athletes at this deeper level. Here are some simple questions coaches can be asking:
- Snatch moments with each child individually and ask questions such as, “Why do you like this sport?” Don’t settle for answers like, “Because it is fun.” Prod them to give a more specific answer. This can help coaches to understand their motivation better.
- If a child seems to be struggling with confidence you might ask them, “What are you doing when you feel the best about yourself at practice?” Or on the flip-side, “What are you doing when you feel your worst?”
- Inquire about family life. Make every effort to meet all your parents and talk to kids about the support they get from home.
Challenge Their Growth
It is important to know that athletes are most receptive to growth when coaches pay attention to the first two areas – meeting athletes in their need and learning about them at a personal level.
Once this foundation is in place, it is important for coaches to foster a sense of higher-purpose in each athlete. This can be accomplished by doing things like:
- Talking regularly about the “why” of working hard in sports.
- Compelling athletes to recognize their responsibility in coming to practice regularly and on time.
- Calling athletes to a higher standard when considering their influence on younger teammates as well as their peers.
Friendships can flow out of the leadership practices above. However, it should not be at the expense of challenging your athletes to grow.
Developing Leaders on Your Staff
Coaches play an influential role in the lives of young athletes. It is inevitable that personalities and styles will shape that journey. However, growing your coaching staff into leaders sets the stage for not only successful programs but life-changing experiences that enhance the lives of kids.