Some days you just wish it would rain. Hard. Like, with lightning and thunder. So you could just cancel practice. Or the game. Or both. Or the whole dang season! Some days you can’t remember why you signed up for this. If you’ve ever had one of those days, or if you never want to have one, read on.
Every coach hits a burnout point. Even when things are great, sometimes we just need a break. But if things are a mess, that point comes way too fast. I’d like to help you avoid common mistakes that turn a really fun thing into a painful experience.
The Parent Trap
The easiest place to make things hard on yourself is with the parents. They can make your job easy or hard and you have a lot of influence over that, believe it or not. The first key to ensuring your parents are allies instead of enemies is communication. Set standards and share them with the parents at the beginning of the season. Leading a parents meeting with no kids around is critical. Use that time to establish yourself as the leader, explain your philosophy, standards of behavior (for everyone), and answer questions. Let them know the success of the team depends as much on them as it does you or the kids.
Once the season gets going, address issues head-on as soon as they come up. If a parent starts lobbying to give their kid an edge, be direct and let them know you aren’t going to hear it. If a parent starts violating the team’s code of conduct, confront him or her and enlist other parents to help you encourage the problem parent to get in line.
Stay positive! Praise them often when they exhibit the right behaviors. Encourage them to be the “best sideline in the league.” Give them meaningful tasks that make them feel part of the team. Recruit them as allies and they won’t be detractors.
“This job would be great if it weren’t for the customers.”
When I worked in the service industry, we used that line as both a joke and an honest lament. Sadly, sometimes it feels that way with the kids you’re coaching! Don’t let the very people you are trying to serve become a source of frustration. Here are a few tips to keep that from happening:
- Set a high standard for behavior and stick to it.
- Communicate 1:1 when possible during practice.
- Identify and recruit “player coaches” to help keep order.
You have a great deal of influence over the kids. Challenge them to behave in a way that helps everyone get the most out of the experience. Without interrupting practice, find times to “check in” on players. Make eye contact and ask open ended questions. Listen. As you observe the team dynamics, identify the natural leaders. Empower them specifically to enforce your team code of conduct.
In many youth leagues, the Officials have the least amount of training and experience of any officiating level. Unfortunately, all too often that becomes obvious. How do you keep that from ruining things?
The best technique here is to prepare for and expect mistakes to be made by the officials. Remind your players and parents that the officials are human and will make mistakes. Do not let anyone other than you (as Head Coach) speak to the Officials. Stop any criticism immediately. It will not help and in fact does a lot of damage. When the kids hear adults complaining about authority, it undermines their sense of safety and well-being. If the grownups are openly bashing the Officials, you can be sure the kids will follow suit. That’s a recipe for disaster. People don’t make less mistakes under duress. Quite the opposite. I assure you, the vast majority of Officials want to get all the calls right, and no Official in the history of sport has ever officiated a “perfect” game.
When a call doesn’t go your way, encourage your players to overcome adversity. If you have a concern about safety, calmly and respectfully ask to speak to the lead Official of the contest and let him or her know about your concern. You are not going to get a call reversed, so arguing with the Officials serves no purpose other than to irritate them. Don’t distract the person who is tasked with keeping the contest safe. Every sport is facing a shortage of Officials; disrespecting them discourages everyone from joining their ranks. Unless we all start treating them better, the opportunities for kids to play sports will decrease. That consequence is certainly not worth you venting! Coach through it, don’t complain about it.
You are doing something amazing. When you feel burned out, remind yourself that this is supposed to be fun and let go of the little things. Focus on the impact you’re having on the players and their families. Take a deep breath and relax. You got this!
What about you? Do you have some tips to share to help coaches keep coaching fun? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!