Youth Sports Coaching 101 – Mistakes I’ve Seen

Youth sports coaches.

Youth sports coaches are also known as the men and women who volunteer their time to make lives better for young athletes. Most of these volunteers are former players, some from the high school or even college level. It’s an honorable sacrifice and we should all remember that before we begin to criticize.

However, my experience as a youth sports coach has allowed me to observe many coaches conducting practices, games, post-game speeches, and clinics. As I’ve now coached in Washington, Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and 4 different counties in Ohio, I’ve watched many practices and games conducted where the athletes did not improve due to ineffective and damaging coaching. Below is the short list of most common/most damaging teaching practices and techniques used by youth coaches.

1. Wasting Time. Having young kids stand around while others conduct the drill or while the coach incessantly talks, kills their motivation and bores them. Remember that most of these students have been in a classroom all day before practice. If you spend time “lecturing,” how interested do you really think they’ll be? Then, the coach turns around and chews the kid out for making a mistake that was talked about during practice? Really, coach? There more effective and efficient ways to run a practice. Break the team into groups. Use your assistant coaches or parent volunteers to run drills keeping the kids in groups of three or less. This will provide more repetitions for each player keeping their attention and supporting progress into that learning focus.

2. Resting On Past Experience. How many times have you heard the following statement? “That’s the way we did it when I was playing so that’s how I know to do it.” Likely, that coach played around 10-20 years ago. Another common one: “It was good enough for my coaches so it’s good enough for me.” Let’s think about that. Kids are clearly different now, biomechanical techniques have changed, processes have changed, regulations have changed, medical advances have occurred, conditioning and stretching (warmups) improvements have been made. One common thread among all tenured and successful coaches is this: change with the times. While your junior high basketball coach made you run “suicides” at the end of practice, it has since been identified that using that conditioning method prevents athletes from working harder during practice as they unconsciously “save their energy” for the end of practice. And when your high school football coach made the whole team run when you fumbled, what did you learn about how to protect the ball? Nothing. That technique only breeds resentment and anger. Make the correction in line with the deficiency. When a player fumbles, have him carry the ball around while other players try to knock it out of his hands (during water breaks, after practice, etc.)

3. Resistance to Learning New Things. This is something I witness in baseball more than any other sport. Down the first base line and the third base line you’ll hear from parents, “swing level,” or “keep your back elbow up.” Those are both examples of things I was taught when I was playing youth baseball, around 25 years ago. There have been MANY biomechanical advancements in that period, as well as technological advancements which afford us the opportunity to slow down the swing and examine it more in depth. We’ve found that a “level” swing is not optimal for power or contact and the back shoulder raised creates a back-shoulder dip in younger athletes with muscles not well developed. Coaches, get up to speed on the current teaching and scientific advancements in the sport you coach. You owe it to your players, even though you are a volunteer.

Coaches, please remember that you could be the adult that kids will remember forever. Youth coaches can have an amazing impact on the lives of young athletes. You more than likely remember your little league baseball coach or your first football coach, right? You’re an important part of the young athletes’ lives. Take just a little time each week to surf coaching blogs and podcasts, attend coaching clinics, read books written by prominent coaches and chase YouTube for drills. Saying, “I only coach in a youth league, I don’t need to do all of that” is not sufficient.

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