One of the biggest mistakes new coaches can make is to assume that because they played a particular sport, even if they went fairly far in their athletic career, they are qualified to coach said sport. Doing it yourself and teaching someone else how to do it are two very things and require very different skill sets. One of the most important things a youth sports coach can do in order to help their team succeed is to focus on their communication skills.
Communicating With Parents
For better or worse, as the coach of a youth sports team you will have to deal with the parents. Hopefully your team parents are respectful, helpful, and enthusiastic about the team, but if you coach long enough you’re bound to have one of “those” sports parents. Maybe they are constantly arriving late to practices/games, they are coaching from the sidelines, getting into it with other parents, or arguing with officials. Whatever they are doing that is frustrating you the very last thing you want is to have a confrontation turn into a brawl. The news is full of stories of parents and coaching getting into physical fights over a Little League game and that is something that should never happen.
It might be worth having a pre-season meeting with your parents where you set the ground rules for the season, to help avoid confrontation later. What are your practice attendance policies? What will you do if a parent gets heated on the sidelines? How do you want disagreements (like a parent that thinks their child deserves more playing time) to be handled during the season? If you set expectations upfront it might make it easier to communicate down the road.
The key to communicating with parents is to keep your cool, no matter what. Most parents aren’t actively looking to cause trouble, but, let’s be honest, when it comes to our kids sometimes our judgment gets a little clouded. If they feel like their child is being unfairly treated they are bound to speak up sooner or later. Just focus on explaining your reasoning and how you will handle the situation going forward. Most parents will be just fine as long as you are honest and fair!
Communicating With Players
Communicating with an eight year old is very different than communicating with their parent, especially when you are trying to teach that eight year old something. What you say, what you mean, and what a child hears can be very different things. Your body language and your tone mean just as much as what you are actually saying! It’s important that you come across as approachable, so players aren’t nervous about asking to explain something again. Not every player is going to learn/understand a drill or play in the same way, so sometimes you have to change your approach to ensure that the whole team is on board. If they kids are afraid that you’ll be mad or disappointed in them chances are they won’t be asking many questions. It’s also helpful to listen as much as you talk. For example, ‘What you are saying is…’ or ‘Are you suggesting that …’ helps athletes know you are listening and understand what they are trying to say. Sometimes younger children have a harder time explaining exactly what it is they are thinking and feeling, so spinning it back helps ensure that everyone is on the same page.