Coaching a kid's sports team isn't about reliving your glory days; it's about properly teaching the fundamentals and having fun.
Recently, I’ve taken on the role as Assistant Coach for my eight-year-old daughter’s recreational basketball league. And even though my role has been short-lived so far, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to pull a team together for an educational, competitive, and most of all fun experience. In fact, after an initial gathering “coaches meeting” (two per team), I like to think I have a leg up on other more “seasoned” coaches. Why? Well, because I’m not insane for starters. As well, I understand that my daughter and her friends are not on the road to the WNBA and if they are, now is not the time to hound them like it’s the Olympic Trials.
Before you think your glory days of backyard fame automatically make you a premiere coach, check your ego at the door, collect one of what will be many fouls, and check out my top three quick and dirty tips on How to Coach Your Kid’s Sports Team:
Tip #1: It’s Not the Pros
Over the years, I’ve talked a lot about being a mannerly competitor, and also about being a proper sports viewer. In fact, I look at attending a sporting event as a way for me to get more fodder for my column. From the drunken rages to armchair quarterbacking to telling the professional referees (who stand inches away from the action) they are “F’ing BLIND!” every time I attend a live sporting event, I find myself wishing I was watching it on my couch. Thankfully, at a child’s sporting event, there is no drinking (that I’m aware of) and the parents don’t let their “rage flag” fly too brightly during the game. Now, I say that with trepidation, considering that a large majority of parent-coaches do feel it’s their responsibility to bring a little Bobby Knight to the gymnasium. Case in point: during a hockey game for my nephew last year, one of the opposing coaches berated his players so harshly he would make Gunnery Sargent Hartman’s character in Full Metal Jacket blush. Last time I checked, they were thirteen, and the NHL was not recruiting from the Baltimore County Leagues. But then again, I’m sure “back in his day” that’s what it took to spark a little fire in the kids, right? You know, because “champions aren’t born, they’re made,” bullies aren’t that bad, and a little ridicule never hurt anyone, right? Ugh, what a load of crap!
Now before all you diehard coaches and sports moms/dads tell me I’m being too tough on coaches that take kids' sports too seriously, let me make one thing clear: I respect the role of a coach and the responsibility that comes with it. You don’t have to be a coach; you sign up for it. You do it for free, and because you love the sport and (hopefully) want to spend time with your kids. As well, I’m definitely not a fan of the whole “everyone’s great” and “everyone’s a star” mentality, I just feel there’s a proper way to let a child know they’re not playing to their full potential. Most importantly, at a young age, when your child is still learning the skills of a sport and the passion for it, they don’t need to be too afraid to fail. With that, it’s beyond rude to demean the kids when they mess up. Instead, take a breath, remember they still watch cartoons in their spare time, and then explain what went wrong in a calm tone. Try showing them footage on YouTube of what to do correctly (there are tons of footage), or better yet record a game so you can critique the game together. Chances are that when you work with the child to develop, you’ll get a much better result than just telling them they’re a loser.
Tip #2: It IS All About Fun
When it comes to coaching a kid’s sport, fundamentals are the focus, and fun is the backbone for the sport. So, piggybacking on Tip #1, when you take on the responsibility of being a kid’s coach, you have to balance that role with professionalism, and as a big brother/sister as well. I say professionalism, not as in hoping your kids go pro but that you can’t half-ass it. You can’t just sign up to say you did, then do a terrible job as a coach. Sure, I never played basketball competitively (aside from my teenage years at Camp Airy) but I didn’t sign up to help to just hand out water bottles and snacks after the game either. My daughter loves basketball and wants to be good. In fact, I bought her a basketball hoop for our driveway this year because I wanted to see her skills grow. However, like I said in Tip #1 about not making this a “job,” as much as I want her to learn, I also want her and the other kids to fall in love with the sport. If your kids can’t enjoy the sport for what it is, they will lose interest from the first whistle and miss out on a life of healthy activity. Even if they can’t compete an elite level when they get older, at least they can still have a solid understanding of a fun game and enjoy watching it—but not if you make the experience miserable.