Often as a coach, it’s easy to pick out your star athletes. Usually they’re the ones hitting the ball out of the park, raining 3s on the court, or dodging linebackers to make the game-winning touchdown. But what about the smaller, quieter, or less agile teammates – can you recognize potential in them too? Perhaps all they need is the right guidance to grow their skills and succeed in their sport. Here are a few tips on how to recognize potential in your most unexpected athletes.
Look Beyond Physique
Remember, you’re coaching youth sports – many of these kids develop at vastly different rates. One eighth-grade boy might have scrawny arms at 5’1”, while another may have bulked-up muscles and a mustache at 6’, and yet they could both play on the same JV basketball team. You may have high expectations for the 6’ kid to average multiple points from rebounding in the paint, but in reality it might be the 5’1” kid who is quick and spry getting to the basket. Seeing the potential in both athletes is crucial for the growth of the athlete and the team. Not all NBA players started off as the best player on their high school teams, but they all had coaches along the way that saw their true potential.
Notice Character Traits
An athlete’s character can have a big impact on their potential strengths in a sport, and being able to hone in on an athlete’s character is a good way to decipher their role on the team. Is the athlete hungry to score? Have a close attention to detail? Aggressively defends the goal? Observe each player’s actions on and off the field to learn how their skill sets best fit in with team roles.
Pay Attention to Detail
Ever notice one of your less-skilled athletes make an amazing play? That’s called potential. Maybe the reason this athlete doesn’t constantly make great plays is because they are afraid to make a mistake – and it’s up to you to recognize that. Try to encourage the shy athlete to just go for it. You may be surprised to see that once a player learns that it’s ok to make a mistake, they might start making those amazing plays on a more consistent basis. This is a great way to build confidence in your timid players and will ultimately make the team stronger as a whole.
Don’t Just Focus on the “Now”
One mistake that many coaches make is to focus on the current ability of players rather than trying to improve skills for the future. True, most coaches go to a game with the goal of winning, but it might be detrimental to the entire team to continue to play just your top players. One of the toughest things to do is predict future performance, but it’s definitely a skill worth working on as a coach. Less skilled players tend to learn quickly when surrounded by more skilled players, and as a team, you’re only as good as your weakest link, so focus on making them stronger!
Identifying potential talent is hard – you have to focus on the technical, physical, and psychological aspects as a whole – and sometimes, you just have to go with your gut instinct. Once you learn what each of your athletes need to drive them to succeed, the better your team will be, and the better you will become as a coach.
-A SI Play Coach