As fall sports start to wrap-up around most of the country, winter sports have just begun or are right around the corner.  The anticipation is building for an exciting new season.  New equipment, new uniforms, and new teammates are all fun things we all look forward to before the first practice or first game of a new season.  But even with all this newness we look forward to, many coaches go back to their old ways, old habits, and old expectations for the new upcoming season.  Every season is different, and before every season, youth sport coaches must evaluate, and reevaluate their qualifications, priorities, and goals for their team and for themselves.

Why do we bask in the excitement of newness but revert back to our old tendencies?  For most, the answer is comfort.  We crave similarity and continuity.  Even with all the newness of each season, we tend to retreat back to what is familiar and what we feel most comfortable with.  Of course, if players have been consistently improving, there may not be a need to “reinvent the wheel,” but there are still ways we can evolve our program and our team.  Before you begin to coach this season, ask yourself these questions.

Am I Properly Trained in the Sport and Coaching Children?

Before each season, coaches should ensure they meet the minimum qualifications to coach for their league.  Many leagues require a criminal background check and attendance at a coaches training clinic.

Even if your league does not require training, it is a good idea to take a coaching training course or two.  Many of these training courses are available online and can be completed at your leisure.  Children are not little adults; practice techniques used for an experienced high school team will not work for a 6-year old child new to the sport.  Children of all ages communicate differently, acquire skills at different rates, and enjoy different types of activities.  The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) offers online training for general coaching techniques and coaching children as well as sport-specific training with drills and practice ideas.  There is a nominal cost, but coaches who complete this training receive access to a members only resource section and excess liability insurance.

While not sport-specific, the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) offers online courses to help coaches make sure they have the best season possible, and create winners on and off the field.

Do I Know CPR and First Aid?

All coaches should have a certification in CPR, the use of an AED, and in basic first aid.  The American Heart Association and the Red Cross both offer courses.  Certification is valid for two years on CPR/AED and First Aid with both of these organizations, and certification should be renewed and active prior to the start of any season.

Do I Have my Priorities Right for the Season?

It is important to set goals prior to each season, but these goals need to be appropriate for the age group and level of the children playing the sport.  Many youth sport coaches all say the “right thing” in interviews or on applications with league officials and to parents before the season: “I want the kids to learn the sport and have fun.”  And yes, those should be two key goals of any coach, of any team, of any youth sport organization regardless of the player’s age or the level of the team.  But how often is winning a goal coaches commonly have, but don’t state.

In recreational-level sports, winning should never be a priority for a coach.  Regardless of age, recreational level sports are unique.  They do not exist to satisfy the egos of coaches or parents who need to win; they exist solely for the children participating in them.  We need to create positive, welcoming environments for the children participating.  By focusing on process goals and skill development, wins will come naturally.  By developing quality practices (download a TFQ practice plan sheet to help) and by creating a fun, welcoming environment where players want to come to practice or the game each and every time, many recreational-level youth sport coaches will have met their goals.

With a new season upon us, it is important for every youth sport coach to sit down and evaluate their answers to these three questions.  While these questions may seem simple, the time before a new season is a crucial time for self-reflection to ensure all the children participating on their team have fun, learn a new skill or improve upon their acquired skills, and return to play next year.  If we, as coaches, don’t provide positive experiences for the children on our team, youth sports will not be the type of athletic environment our kids deserve.


Featured Image: Camp One by ACRPhoto   CC BY 2.0