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Six Tips for Being an Excellent Youth Coach - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

In today's sporting landscape, youth sports can feel as pressurized as much more elite levels of competition. Whether because of demanding parents, full playing schedules, or athletes' own expectations for themselves and each other, it can sometimes be hard to figure out how to coach youth sport well. These six tips can help you bring it back to the basics and give you a solid groundwork for your youth coaching style.

youth basketball team

Tip One: Always Have a Practice Plan

Especially in youth coaching, the temptation is strong to wing a plan for every practice. After all, you know the sport. You've probably experienced plenty of practices in your day. And they're kids, right?

In reality, the simple habit of thinking through the activities and skills you'd like to prioritize in a practice session can have a meaningful impact on the quality of your sessions. Practice planning does not have to be complicated. It can take just a minute or two to jot down on a sticky note or napkin. It can be done on the way to the gym or walking onto the field.

Even if you end up improvising or changing your plan, the process of thinking through what your athletes need is a huge contributor to creating a productive learning environment for them.

Tip Two: Know the Benefits of Using Tech for Coaching

From the most elite clubs and franchises all the way to the smallest community sport leagues, social media and other technological applications have become a given in today's sporting world.

As a youth coach, tech can sometimes solve a number of pain points for you, your team, or your league. From roster management to practice scheduling, parent communication, or helpful coaching content and ideas, apps and software tools can help automate or enhance large sections of your coaching responsibilities.

Tip Three: Make Expectations Clear from the Beginning

Even in youth coaching, you'll probably find yourself butting up against an athlete's (or more likely, a parent's) unreasonable expectations about playing time, effort required, punctuality, or commitment. It can be difficult for everyone involved to realize only halfway through the season that members of the team had different ideas of how the season would look and how decisions would be made.

It's important to make sure your athletes, and their parents, are aware of a few core expectations for your team and season from the get-go. These might include your policy for navigating any athlete's schedule conflicts with practice times or games, how you plan to distribute playing time, how you'll handle any medical needs or emergencies, and your strategy for developing your players' skills. Communicate these expectations in a start-of-season meeting, via a simple printed handout, or in an email at the beginning of your team's time together and you'll hopefully avoid frustrating conflicts throughout the rest of the season.

Tip Four: Practice Teaching Succinctly and Effectively

Coaching is teaching. And teaching takes a number of skills and aptitudes that are worth developing if you want to improve your effectiveness as a coach. One of the most important skills a coach can learn is to communicate instructions or concepts effectively. This requires a few different components:

Use language your audience will understand: If you are coaching kindergarteners, obviously you'll need to explain things differently than you would if you were coaching middle-schoolers.

Communicate succinctly: It's an easy temptation for coaches to explain too much at a time or to treat the start of a drill like a strategy lesson. Be aware of how much time it takes you to explain the drill or concept you're trying to get across. If it's more than a couple sentences, it's probably too long.

Check in: Ask if your athletes understood. Find out if they have questions. Ask for their feedback when you can. This will help you communicate more effectively over time.

Tip Five: Help Your Athletes Take Ownership

No matter what age you coach, your athletes can grow further and faster when you allow them to take ownership. Whether it's their personal skill development or something for the entire team, giving your athletes some leeway and responsibility can profoundly improve their experiences and growth throughout the season.

Tip Six: Remember What It's All About

At the end of the day, coaching youth sport is much more about nurturing your athletes' personal growth and love for the sport. Don't be distracted by stats or win/loss records. Keep this your priority and the rest will fall in line.

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Articles by Sarah Daren