Keys to Good Coaching

In his groundbreaking book Beyond X’s and O’s: What Generic Parents, Volunteer Coaches and Teachers Can Learn About Generic Kids and All of the Sports They Play, Jack Hutslar was one of the first youth sports reformers to point out that young children are just not ready for some of the knowledge their coaches throw at them.

Playing a team sport can be a difficult and complicated task. For instance, simply dribbling a ball down the basketball court with any success means a child must know how to dribble, how to run and dribble, and how to look up and run and dribble – all at once. These, says Hutslar, are serial skills that take time and, in many cases, require a certain age or stage of development in order to master. Coaches should also be willing to adapt the sizes of playing fields and the rules of the game to suit the age-specific needs of their players.

The good news for parents is that many organized youth sports have developed training courses and clinics for coaches in order to make them age-appropriate instructors. Make sure your child’s coach has taken advantage of some of these.

But a good coach is not simply one who does not scream or who has taken a few courses. There are a host of other traits most good coaches possess. Some of them are instinctive, some are not.

Whose Game Is It Anyway?

Ask yourself if your child’s coach – or potential coach – has a sense that the real work of youth sports is to be done by the children themselves. Does she let the children keep the score book or help with “coaching” duties? Does the coach keep the children involved and active, or does he let too many sit for too long watching the coach do the coaching or watching the “better” kids play?

Look for a sense of selflessness in the way the coach details his goals for the season. Is the season about winning the trophy (often, this is the coach’s desire) or is it about all the players getting a little better at the game and having some laughs along the way (often, these are cited by the players as their wants and needs).

Dean Conway, a youth soccer association coaching director, recalls a game he coached for girls under 14 years old. The opposing coach appeared to have his head on straight, but as Conway’s team began to rack up goals, the opposing coach panicked. It was all he could do to yell in desperation: “Somebody do something!” It’s not the kind of moment that inspires confidence, but it does show just how much some adult coaches care about winning, or about satisfying their wants and needs.

Continue to Winning Isn't Everything ... Or Is It?

Return to: What Makes a Great Coach? A Parents' Primer

Tom Moroney, author of this Parent's Primer, is co-author, along with Bob Bigelow and Linda Hall, of Just Let The Kids Play: How to Stop Other Adults from Ruining Your Child’s Fun and Success in Youth Sports, Health Communications Inc., 2001.