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Good coach / bad coach
I grew up a coach’s kid. Our family activities revolved around sports. The majority of my time was spent at a small Iowa gym, and having to shoot 10 free throws in a row before I could come in the house to eat dinner was standard protocol. Even the families we hung out with included other coaches. It was the norm.
It wasn’t until my father, who is in the Iowa Coach’s Hall of Fame, passed away two years ago that it hit me. As I gazed at the massive visitation line, I was struck with how many people came up to me with a story to share about “Coach McDonnell”.
Each story was heartfelt, and I could tell he had made a huge impact on their childhood. My father always said good coaches are what make the difference at a young age. But what makes a “good” coach, really? And what is it about a good coach that makes adults remember their coaching for years after the fact.
We’re not talking about coaches like Bear Bryant.
This is about the youth coaches that are introducing our kids to the sport they want to play — in short, usually their first coach.
We as parents know that coaches and sports in general can be enormously influential in the lives of our kids.
Coaches can point out the bad, but need to stay focused on the positive. A good coach knows the limitations and ability of each child.
Involvement in sports helps with physical fitness, teamwork skills and discipline. According to Safe Kids USA, there are more than 38 million kids engaged in some form of sports each year, and almost 75 percent of American households with school-age children have at least one student athlete.
Yet, this athletic involvement comes with its own challenges, chief among them, coaches and parents being too competitive. Translation: Sports can stop being fun. How do coaches, along with parents, walk the fine line? How do coaches ‘level the playing field’ so to speak.
What makes a good coach for your kid?
Coaches are known for being able to handle pressure. Whether you’re on the sidelines of a NFL team or your son or daughter’s youth soccer team, the pressures are there. And the similarities of all “good coaches” are there, as well, especially the ones that thrive despite the pressures.
Everyone will have a slightly different answer to the question, “What makes a good coach for my kid?” but similar themes rise to the top when talking to parents and coaches.
Being positive and making the sport fun are at the top of the list, as well as being able to develop confidence in every player.
Lori Juhl, mother of a traveling basketball player in the Centennial School System in Lino Lakes, said a strong coach analyzes each individual player and tries to develop those that are perhaps less talented than the others.
“It’s important to keep the team motivated, and be encouraging to the players, not negative,” she said. “Coaches can point out the bad, but need to stay focused on the positive. A good coach knows the limitations and ability of each child.”
Brent Cuttell, former President of Cottage Grove’s Youth Football, and current youth football coach, said it’s imperative to remember that this usually is the first time that a child is being exposed to a sport.
“You have to understand and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m more than a coach,’” he explains, “And it’s not about the Xs and Os, and not about if the kid is the next Walter Peyton or Peyton Manning.
“Maybe the best thing that happens to this kid is that he starts the whole season, or that he just has fun, or that he improves. I think at a young age, the most important approach is to create a positive environment. The kid should want to play the next season.”
Steve Eckes, current board member for the Andover Baseball association, and youth baseball coach and father, has similar views.
“Kids at this age, they don’t come pre-packaged with a perfect baseball swing. Every kid is different with different personalities.
“If you can’t connect with them, you won’t be able to make them understand. You have to talk with them at their level, get down on your knee and talk face to face and be their friend.
“They have to understand that you care about their development, and that means getting down to their level.”
Look for coaches with flexibility and a plan
Connecting with younger kids can be tricky, whether you’re a coach or not. And the most basic skill of taking charge and having a plan can sometimes be the most difficult for a beginner coach—making sure your practices are organized and well planned.
“What I learned is, you should have your drills no longer in minutes than the age of the group your teaching,” said Cuttell, “If you’re coaching 9- and 10-year-olds, you can’t put in a drill of 20 minutes. They are going to lose focus.
“Keep the drills short and effective and keep it active, that’s what the kids want. Long, drawn out practices and drills probably have a negative, more than a positive impact.”
Eckes also keeps drills short and sweet.
“Kids don’t want to stand in line, and kids get frustrated if they aren’t busy. They are there to have fun, not become Derek Jeter.
“What I see when I see some coaches fail, is going into game mode; showing them the game without the fundamentals. Keep it like gym class, that’s what they like.”
Coaches who refuse to be flexible pose challenges to the kids and their parents.
“You have to be flexible with what your team is telling you they need,” stressed Cuttell.
“You have to adapt to what you’ve been presented. You as the coach owe it to the team to adapt to them, without losing focus of the goal.
“A ‘bad’ coach is somebody that is unwilling or unable to be flexible or adapt to their team. If you come with a Vince Lombardi attitude, it’s not going to work.”