Imagine this Ad…

Imagine this Ad…
Published: 2021-05-31

Imagine this ad…

Wanted: volunteer to teach high school algebra 8-9am MWF. No experience necessary. Preferable that you took some math in high school. Background check and child abuse prevention course required.

Would you send your kid to a school that ran an ad like that?

Yet, that is essentially what we do with youth sports coaches. As Ron Quinn of Xavier University asks (paraphrasing): What changes at 3pm? Why do we as parents expect or demand that from 8am until 3pm our kids be taught by trained (ideally highly trained) teachers who went to college for four or more years and got specific training in how to teach children along with subject area knowledge, but we do not come anywhere close to demanding that from the adult who takes over after school for practice?

For any parent who has helped their kid with math it can be humbling that although you did a hundred proofs in geometry you cannot explain how to do one now.  Well, it can be the same with coaching. You might have played, but can you coach? It’s okay, many great athletes were not big successes as coaches.

A key element is to provide some training for youth coaches. A big challenge is balancing what can be asked of them in addition to the time they spend setting up the cones and getting the kids organized especially when we consider the vast majority are volunteers and may only coach for the seasons their kid(s) is playing. Youth sports coaches are likely asked to complete a background check (okay, that does not take long) and possibly a child abuse prevention course that might run upwards of 90 minutes.

What about providing them with meaningful training that will make the coaching experience better for them and for the kids? Perhaps cut back a week on the season and take the time usually dedicated to a game to do a training for the coaches instead. Set up a curriculum that is the basics for the first-year coach focused on how kids learn. For instance, remind the coach that a kids attention span is pretty short and long involved explanations will be lost on them.  Have a teacher from a school teach the coach about the cognitive development level the kids in that age group are in. A nine-year-old is going to struggle with abstract concepts so strategies need to be simple and concrete.

For second-year coaches, build on this learning. Do not make them retake the same course. Third-year coaches then get additional training and so on.

For you as the coach, seek out information from teachers and other resources on how to manage a group of kids and what is age appropriate for them. Look at the national governing body (NGB) for the sport to see what resources and recommendations they have. See if the NGB has a long-term athlete development model (or American Development Model in the US). Many NGBs offer free practice plans that you can take and use; you still need to figure out how to explain and demonstrate, but at least a lot of work is done for you. Rather than inventing new practice plans or coming up with the greatest run-pass option in the world, take the time to learn how to teach (pedagogy) for your age group.

Seek out certification. Certification does not always mean a coach is going to be good, but they offer useful information. In some cases, they will reinforce what you are doing and that can be comforting. Do not let certification be the end goal though; look it is as the beginning of your education as a coach. In some cases, you can attend clinics without ever getting the certification and that knowledge is still useful to you.

Let’s up the game and provide quality training for coaches. As coaches, let’s not wait for our organization to provide us with the training, seek it out or ask your organization to provide it. Quality coaching can make for a better experience for the kids and for the coach.

I think that coaches who volunteer want the kids to have a positive experience although what they actually do might not create that environment.