3 Simple Tips for New Coaches
In youth sports, the coach often makes all the difference when it comes to how players and their families experience a sport, which ultimately has an impact on whether players return for another season. And believe it or not, a coach’s ability to influence players has little to do with what they know and more to do with where they place their priorities.
This past summer I enrolled one of my sons in a local youth sports league. He’s 8 and didn't have a lot of experience playing this particular sport, but I figured this was guaranteed to improve his fitness and give him some exposure to another team sport. I encouraged him to give it a try. The fee was reasonable and I had had experience with the league many years ago when one of my other sons played. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, sadly, my son’s experience as a player, and our family’s experience, left a great deal of room for improvement. From the stands, it seemed clear that it all stemmed from the coach.
I am the first to acknowledge how difficult it is to coach. I have often said that being a coach is similar to being a CEO of a small business; you are not only responsible for physically coaching the team, but you become the treasurer, the equipment manager, the scheduler, the volunteer manager … and the pay really stinks. I commend, and appreciate anyone that is willing to step forward and volunteer. But taking on that responsibility means you are making a commitment to do more than just show up.
My coaching career as a volunteer has spanned 10 years and I have the added blessing of getting to work with coaches and players in my day job with Right Way. Through our work with basketball associations, we are exposed to a variety of different philosophies, and have worked with parent volunteers with a great deal of sport knowledge and those with very little. At the end of the day, some of the best coaches we’ve seen, prioritize communication and the experience of being part of a team, over the x’s and o’s and wins and losses. They value the relationships they are developing.
Now to be completely fair, many volunteer coaches seldomly receive proper training or support. They are expected to jump right in with little time to prepare let alone get connected to someone with experience. Well, for those willing volunteers, we have three pieces of advice.
Get to know each player’s name
What is a greater demonstration of your interest in a player, or family for that matter, than getting to know their names. It’s an absolute necessary first step in building a relationship, and speaks volumes to the kids on the team.
Be a proactive communicator
Miscommunication, or a lack of clarity can quickly build into frustration, or worse. Take time to let parents know how you intend to approach the season and share as much detail as you can. You’ll find that so many conflicts with parents can be avoided when there is an open channel to not only allow you to communicate but also for parents to ask questions.
Understand what’s important to the association you are representing
You aren’t expected to reinvent the wheel when you put your hand up to volunteer. Draw from resources already available through your association. Ask the executive to share with you the types of things they would like expressed, taught or represented in your coaching style so you can be an effective bridge.
Coaches, in closing, ‘be interested!’ Take your responsibility seriously. You are ambassadors to the sport and you wield a great deal of influence in the lives of your athletes. Seek out the knowledge you require, but be sure to place emphasis in the right areas. And by all means, look for areas to make an impact on performance, but even more simply, begin by getting to know everyone’s name!
This post was written by Right Way Director, Stuart Miles, who spends a great deal of time coming alongside coaches as they work to develop their athletes and shape their team's culture.
Games Are Won in Practice
The perception that practicing the basics has to be monotonous is simply not true.
“Under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard” - anonymous (Navy Seal). In an age of instant gratification and one in which seeking out any and all personal exposure opportunities it has become hard to convince young players of the importance of patience and deliberate practice. Throughout our extensive work with players as young as 5 years old it is clear that the overwhelming majority of players would rather “just play” than patiently acquire (or for more advanced players, perfect) the necessary fundamentals. The AAU basketball culture that emphasizes maximizing game play and elevating the individual pursuits of players has further infringed on a coaches ability to get players to buy into a practice-first mentality.
The Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Model recommends a 4:1 practice to game ratio for athletes in the “Learn to Train” stage (8-12 years old). It is safe to say that players younger than 8 years old should almost exclusively be practicing. However, in our experience these ratios are simply not followed (oftentimes not necessarily due to the coaches negligence but other factors such as gym time, scheduling etc). We too often curtail to the cries of “more fun, more gameplay!”. The problem arises when players have not adequately learned the prerequisite skills and fundamentals which inevitably leads to bad habits, rule breaking and frustration. Relying too heavily on gameplay in the development stages may offer that instant gratification of players seemingly enjoying themselves, however, it will do them a grave disservice in the long run.
It may be helpful to give an actual example to illustrate the importance of sufficient and intentional practice. We have had the privilege of working with many teams from several different associations in Ottawa and beyond, and one thing is consistent - if a team is struggling in games then there is a high probability that their practices are ineffective. More specifically, they are not adequately teaching the fundamentals required for the players to improve and grow (this will vary by age and level of play). We have witnessed practices where 11-12 year old players cannot consistently stop their body without travelling or almost falling over. If this basic fundamental movement skill is not acquired, then having success in a game situation with MANY more variables and situations will simply not be possible. These players must improve body control before progressing to more complex skills. From a team culture perspective there is also a standard that must be set in practice. If your team spends more time chatting, standing in long lines and taking water breaks than they do actively working on their game, seeing tangible improvement in games will be very difficult. Disciplines such as: arriving to practice on time, running to the huddle when the coach blows the whistle, making eye contact when a coach or teammate is talking and simply trying your hardest all the time will go a long way in helping your team build habits that will directly translate to on-court success. These should never be overlooked!
Our suggestion for coaches and parents is to show your players/children the original Karate Kid movie. Essentially the main character, Daniel, wants to jump right into fighting before he’s learned the basics of Martial Arts. His trainer must teach him the nuances of Martial Arts among other things (patience, discipline etc.) before he is allowed to fight. The underlying theme of the movie parallels our approach to training young athletes - patience and practice! This idea of practicing and working on the fundamentals before progressing to a competition should be cultivated by more coaches and parents. Skill acquisition occurs at the earliest stages of development so it is crucially important that young players spend ample time working on the basics of the game BEFORE introducing more gameplay. There are many ways to engage young players and make learning the fundamentals “fun” without just allowing them to play 5on5 games. The movie even uses seemingly useless exercises (like the “wax on”,“wax off” of cars and painting fences to build discipline). It is the responsibility of the trainer in the movie or coach in a basketball context to be creative when teaching kids to keep them engaged and learning. The often elusive holy grail for a coach of young players is to have them learning and executing skills and fundamentals when they don’t even know they are doing it. This can be achieved through small-sided games, competitions, games with props, races etc. The perception that practicing the basics has to be monotonous is simply not true. Coaches just need to carefully plan their practices in order to maximize reps and fun at the same time - see our previous blog post for some insight on that topic.
If you have questions about proper training for your team or child then please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to point you in the right direction.
YouTube Won't Make You a Coach
When learning drills or plays from a brief YouTube video there is so much that is missing.
In a world where we seemingly have everything at our fingertips, it can be all too easy to rely on the internet to solve all of our problems. “Just Google it” or “I saw that on YouTube” are regularly uttered in our day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, the internet and its overwhelming abundance of resources/information cannot substitute real life experiences and interactions. Most of us can identify with this - many basketball players are kinesthetic learners and absorb information best from hands-on activities with specific instructions and feedback. As former players, many coaches are the same way. By simply watching a video with minimal instruction built around the focus of the drill, how effective can coaches really be introducing the drill, providing feedback or making adjustments? Furthermore, what do our players gain from merely imitating a drill described to them second hand?
Where are we going with this? While they may provide you with ideas or inspiration, watching YouTube coaching videos won’t make you a coach. There is nothing wrong with accessing many of the great online resources out there for basketball coaches, but there is so much lost when watching YouTube videos to inform yourself as a coach.
Here are some things to consider when you go searching online for that next coaching gem:
More than just learning the drill.
That drill you've finally found online after hours of searching, may look great when demonstrated by a university team and you may even learn it well enough to get your young team to run it at your next practice ... but what are you looking for when they run it? What fundamentals need to be emphasized for it to be run correctly? How can you “load” or “unload” the drill to make it more effective or appropriate for your team? What should be taught BEFORE you actually run the drill? Are the players developing their decision making ability in this drill or is it simply to get repetitions and build base fundamental skills? There is so much more to simply “running” a drill you've seen on the internet.
There is conflicting information on just about everything you find online.
Many new coaches may not be able to decipher between how to teach certain skills or drills when their online search comes up with conflicting information. Sometimes the conflicting information is just minor and does not really impact what is being taught, however, there are other instances when it really does matter. As a coach you must understand the implications of teaching certain fundamentals especially to younger athletes. Players will form habits and as a coach you want to make sure they are forming the best possible habits to give them them the greatest opportunity for success down the road.
The scope and role of a coach is much larger than drills, skills and plays.
How do you engage the 'disinterested' player on your team? How do you manage parent expectations? How do you foster a team-first culture? How do you create accountability within your team? How do you help your players grow into becoming better people off the court through the lessons learned on the court? These are just a few of the many questions that are not easily answered in a well-edited YouTube video clip. We would argue that these types of questions are the most important ones when it comes to developing your own coaching philosophy. If you jump right to YouTube to inform your practice planning before you’ve established your “coaching voice” and philosophy as a coach then you are missing out on the greater role of the coach.
Now that we've identified some potential problems with relying too heavily on YouTube as your source for all things basketball, we will offer some alternative solutions or tips when engaging with online resources. Here is what we would suggest for coaches looking to grow in their knowledge and understanding of the game:
Identify your need.
You must identify the need or goal BEFORE perusing the millions of video clips available. What is the specific area of need or skill development you would like to address? This approach will help you weed out many of the drills or instructional videos that don’t directly apply to meeting the goal you’ve set out for that specific area of instruction. Do not simply go looking for drills to fill an opening in your practice. Being more intentional with your search will help prevent you from getting caught in the abyss of suggested or “up next” videos on the right hand side of the screen, or worse selecting a drill because it looks “cool” yet does not address the specific area you originally set out for.
Not all YouTube channels are created equal.
Similar to doing academic research, one must attempt to distinguish between credible and not-so credible resources. This does not mean the person conducting the video must have won 5 NBA Championships or played 15 years of professional basketball to be credible (oftentimes it's actually quite the opposite). Look beyond the fancy editing and shiny gym to see if they are explaining why a drill is performed and what fundamentals or skills should be emphasized throughout the progression of the drill. YouTube channels that specialize in youth development are a good place to start. Properly executing a drill with 12/13 year olds on your house league team may prove to be quite the challenge if you are extracting your resources from an NCAA Division 1 coach that is assuming many of the basic skills and fundamentals have already been acquired because s/he is dealing with elite level players. A good instructional video (especially for youth basketball) will provide the goals for a given drill/play, put it in a game context, and also explain what the coach should be looking for when it is run.
Do your homework, and maybe seek out a mentor.
Lastly, our advice would be to seek out a coaching mentor, attend an in-person coaching clinic or at least start to write down some of your coaching questions (technical, philosophical or otherwise). The best answers as a coach come from well-thought out questions that will direct your coaching practice. Having a more experienced coach come out and work with you in a practice setting is an invaluable experience that will help you understand how a practice should flow, when specific drills should be woven into a given practice structure, when a drill should be stopped for correction and when it should be allowed to continue despite mistakes, how to properly “load” or “unload” a drill to meet the needs of your specific team, etc.
So next time you feel the urge to run to YouTube to build your coaching repertoire perhaps think about some of the questions we’ve raised in this post. YouTube and other online coaching resources can be of great value if used in moderation and with a discerning approach. Blindly executing drills you learned on the internet will not provide your players with the necessary understanding for the greater purpose of the drill and will result in you running back to the well of endless YouTube drills in order to keep things fresh and fill those gaps in your practices. Understanding and being able to teach the fundamentals in everything you do as a team will help you maximize the return on your investment in terms of learning new things on the internet. Lastly, the technical side of coaching is often over-emphasized and romanticized especially by coaches that love talking about x’s and o’s (please see this short clip for more insight on this). In the end, Theodore Roosevelt said it best, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Establish your overarching coaching philosophy then get down to the technical side of the game.
If you have questions about anything we’ve covered in this post or would like more guidance as to how to best inform your coaching practice, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Thanks for reading!