The first step is to learn the individual rules and policies of your league. While that may sound fairly simple, you have to understand that for many youth leagues, the rules are tailored to the age of the player. There might be specific rules regarding playing time and the kinds of defenses that can be played. As the coach, it is essential you attend the pre-season organizational meetings and that you read and understand league rules. (Be sure that your assistant coaches understand the rules as well!)
Speaking of assistant coaches, understand that they will be invaluable as the season wears on. In addition to helping you orchestrate practice sessions and plot out game strategies, they can serve as a sounding board for you and for the players. Many times kids (and occasionally their parents) will approach an assistant coach first with a problem or a concern. That’s fine — just be sure you and your assistants have an open line of communication. As coach, you never want to be the last one to know about a problem with one of your players.
Your team also might have a parent who volunteers to make phone calls about schedule changes and directions to games, organizes the drinks for halftime, plans the end of the season party, and so forth. Such a volunteer will save you countless hours of additional work so you can concentrate on coaching.
The most important team meeting of the season should take place before the very first practice. Make certain you let the parents know that this meeting is mandatory! If a parent cannot attend the meeting, make sure you spend time on the phone together prior to the first practice. Use this session to introduce yourself, coaching staff and parent volunteers to the rest of the Moms and Dads. Prepare and hand out a sheet with telephone numbers and detail any unique league rules that will affect the team and your coaching philosophy.
This could be the only time during the season you address your expectations as well as those of the parents. Create printouts with the schedule, team roster (complete with parents’ names and phone numbers), and directions to any away games. Let parents know what time you expect players to arrive for games and practices. If you have uniforms to pass out, use this time to do that as well.
The entire meeting, by the way, should last no more than 20-30 minutes. Keep it quick, and to the point. One last reminder: check to see if any child has a special medical condition you should know about. From your perspective, get all the important details necessary to handle a crisis during a practice or a game.
What about coaching your own child? That’s fine, so long as you follow a few basic suggestions. First, check with your son or daughter to see if it’s okay with them. For the most part, children love the idea of playing for their mom or dad. But in some cases, the child will say no. If that happens, you can inquire as to why the child feels that way, but ultimately your child should have the final choice. After all, it’s his or her team — not yours. Assuming your child likes the idea of you coaching, remind them that you must treat them just like everybody else on the team. No special favors or extra playing time just because they happen to be your son or daughter. Be very clear and make certain you live by that standard as well.
Sometimes, youth coaches will go to extremes making sure their child works harder than the other players or by criticizing their child more often in an attempt to remove any question of favoritism. (“Okay, gang, run 5 laps around the gym — and Mike, you run 10 laps.”) This is not treating your child fairly, particularly since you promised to treat everyone the same. Be wary of this because if you press too hard, you might end up pushing your child away from the team.
As the coach, you want to build a solid rapport with each youngster. This can be quickly and easily accomplished by getting to know each child’s first name as quickly as possible. Then, during practice, be sure to spend a few moments with every child. Address them by their first name, and praise them for what they are been doing well in a sincere but gentle way. With the very young players, name tags on their jerseys for the first few practices can help everyone get acquainted more easily.
“Coaching by walking around” is very effective in terms of bonding with each youngster, and the more you do it, the more they’ll begin to feel comfortable. Of course, expect young players to live within the framework of your team rules, such as being on time for practice, not talking when the coach is talking or hustling all the time. But on an individual basis, the sooner you understand the differences between each youngster, the better you will become at motivating them.