What defines a highly effective coach? At the top levels of sports, these are the individuals renowned for diligent strategies, efficient personnel management, excellent relationships with their players, and a quiet innovation that wins games and earns respect. Phil Jackson, Bill Walsh, John Wooden, Tony La Russa, and Bear Bryant immediately come to mind; Joe Maddon and Pete Carroll (his Super Bowl decision to pass instead run at the goal line notwithstanding) are beginning to establish themselves on this list as well.
On the youth sports level, effective coaches aren’t defined by wins and losses, but by the development of and enjoyment felt by the kids they oversee. Despite the gap, elite coaches and successful rec volunteers have more in common than you might think. Often, both use excellent team management skills to achieve goals. You will never win 11 NBA titles, but you can lead a team of players who love the game, and whose parents keep requesting you as coach season after season. With that in mind, here are four team management habits of highly effective coaches:
1. They are organized
Effective team management doesn’t necessarily mean bringing the perfect tactics to every game situation each time your players take the field, court, or ice. Especially with younger rec players, deep strategy is impossible—you’re just happy when they kick the ball toward the right goal. But good organization helps when planning practices that the kids will enjoy and learn from, and having a backup plan if a drill just isn’t working. Good organization also means securing the equipment you need from the league for your team, updating your team webpage, establishing practice schedules ahead of time (which, granted, might not always be in your control), and simply showing up on time and ready to coach. If you are scrambling out the door 15 minutes before practice with no idea what drills you will run, your team management will suffer.
2. They strive to improve
At the rec level, winning and losing should be secondary to learning the game and constantly improving. The team that finishes the season should look nothing like the team that seemed utterly lost during the first five minutes of the first practice. Players who feel they are improving will get more excited and more invested in improving more, and this excitement is infectious, encouraging other players and delighting parents. Tell your team one way it improved each week, and don’t be shy about high-fiving players who make a clear skills leap.
3. They communicate
Coaches are responsible for dispensing a lot of information, but they also are often the targets of questions, mostly well-meaning, though occasionally angry. In this role, you must communicate effectively in order to keep your team management running smoothly. If a rules change comes down from the league, for example, you may be best positioned to explain it to your team’s parents. Schedule changes, league-wide news, and other updates may be sent by admins, but when they also come from you, they carry more impact (online league management software makes this easy). Furthermore, good communication helps when parents do have a serious concern—the trust you have built in turn makes them more comfortable in opening a dialogue.
4. They keep perspective
Undeniably, winning games, advancing in the playoffs, and capturing league titles is terrific. But when that becomes the only goal, your team management is going to suffer because you could start ignoring all the other things that make you a great coach. As an example, consider 8-year-old baseball. At this age, players should be able to try a variety of positions. When winning dominates your thinking, your team management might shift to never letting your less coordinated players try the infield. Winning with integrity, losing with grace, and fun no matter what the outcome is the perspective highly effective coaches bring to every practice and game.
What habits of other coaches have you adopted and made you a better coach?