Five Lessons I Learned As A Volunteer Coach
Five Lessons I Learned As A Volunteer Coach. Oops, I did it again. I agreed to coach one of my kids’ teams. I had sworn off coaching many years ago, but I couldn’t resist my youngest one’s request. So, I agreed. But … this time, I had an entirely new outlook on it. I was going to approach this team SOO dramatically differently. The first two teams I coached were all about the W. Yes, winning was the main goal, oh and spending time with my kids. This was well before founding Ilovetowatchyouplay, and it’s rather embarrassing to say now, but winning was my numero uno, my jam, my reason for coaching. Yes, I wanted players to improve … duh. How else would we win?! But this time, I was approaching it from an entirely new mindset, and this is what I learned.
#1 – Ask for advice
The first thing I did … panic and reach out for help from all of my coaching friends. Slightly embarrassing, yes, but I emailed my kids’ coaches, past and present, and friends and parents I admire, many of whom are very successful and seasoned volunteer coaches. This turned out to be a great exercise and very helpful, particularly to set my team’s tone and culture. I would occasionally re-read these great words of wisdom throughout the season. Here are a few examples.
- I always ask each player to write down why they are playing for the season, what their goal is for themselves, and what the goal for the team should be. This gives me great insight. Then I have a short meeting with the team to understand our individual goals and our team objective. This also helps direct how I will coach the team.
- Skills are developed with practice in anything you find a passion in; cheering others while pursuing their passion makes you part of something bigger than yourself. Not everyone is great all the time, but there is greatness in everyone.
- Three tips I tend to coach by are: Be firm but fair. Don’t be too strict or too soft. Find a balance.
- For me, coaching kids about the difference between winning and loving the game…why we play, why we watch with our family, our friends, and others. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s why we honor the courage of those who give 100%, the inspiration of sportsmanship, and the glory in the win.
- You are there to serve the community in a volunteer capacity. As a coach, your objective is to build a practice in which the challenges are play-based, the players stay in motion at all times, and the ball does the teaching. Not easy, but when it works, it really works. Any time kids are standing in line, and you find yourself talking/shouting that is the definition of a bad practice.
- Always keep in mind that you are coaching an individual to find their potential in a team environment, helping athletes realize their individual responsibility as it relates to team chemistry and team success.
- Every athlete has a different style of learning and assessing personal worth. Finding and cultivating that individualism should be a high priority when motivating your players.
- Not one style fits all athletes. Develop a system for reward and/or punishment that is as consistent as possible.
- Athletes will not always appreciate your decisions but will respect fairness in their treatment of them.
- Get to know your players. Developing trust and respect starts with a relationship.
- Remember you are coaching athletes and future adults; sometimes, your role will include much more than sport.
#2 – Create Team Culture
Since this season was going to be different, I wanted to have intention. I decided not to let things happen but to create a team culture with a purpose. So the first thing I did was call a parent meeting and schedule a mini-practice. I also passed out journals for every girl and asked them to keep track of their progress, thoughts, and feelings at home and reflect on this journey (a little over-the-top, and we never really brought them out again or did much with them).
The parent meeting allowed me to set up my expectations for the season. I also followed up with an email about our team/parent goals. Here’s a section of that email.
We are partners in this. I will expect every parent to be a role model for our girls. This means only positive behavior towards the refs, coaches, players, and league officials. This will be a gracious team (win or lose) and I mean this wholeheartedly.
I also want to express my goals for this season. Please read them and make sure yours match up and if they don’t, reach out to me so we can discuss.
They are in order of importance!
1-The most important goal I have is for every single girl to want to sign up for basketball again, AKA HAVE FUN!
2-I want to see progress and growth in every player. It doesn’t matter if you are experienced or have never played.
3-I like winning and it’s more fun to win. So, we will also have winning as a goal. But not the most important one.
#3 – Check your ego at the door – It is always about what’s best for the kids
So I underestimated my assistant coach’s desire to be involved. I sort of wrongly assumed he would be my backup and that he would “cover” for me when I couldn’t be there.
No, my assistant was ALL-IN!
And because I didn’t discuss/outline responsibilities or even chat about how we’d both like to handle our new relationship before the season, I found myself in a challenging situation.
(Side note, when you ask a former UCLA basketball player, former Pepperdine assistant coach, and current ESPN basketball analyst to be your assistant coach, you should think about what that really means *But even if your assistant coach doesn’t come with said resume, it’s still imperative to your success that you outline roles/responsibilities to have a smooth season.)
I was armed with a positive agenda: to grow the person, the player, and the team. I had a purpose and a plan on how to do it. But none of that mattered much when I walked onto the court.
At the first practice, we had two other teams in the gym, and no one could hear me. I was screaming at the top of my lungs trying to explain the first drill, and it was becoming clear that my high-pitched squeal was not audible.
My assistant stepped in. He had a LOUD booming voice and a very large presence, which immediately cut through the gym noise and got their attention. Okay, yes, I may have played college hoops and have coached a few of my kids’ rec-leagues, but let’s be honest here, he was A LOT more qualified for the job – did I mention he was also the coach of his son’s club team at the time. So, at the very first practice, as we both were doing a dance of power and positioning, I could feel my confidence slipping and my entire practice plan starting to go down the drain. This unexpected challenge set me off course. As I stood there, fumbling around, trying to organize a drill with a high-pitched yell that only dogs can hear (not kidding), my ‘assistant’ easily organized the girls and commanded their attention. I was starting to feel deflated. We managed to get through that practice, not without some serious posturing and stepping on each other, but let’s say it didn’t exactly go as planned.
That night, I did some serious soul-searching about the season and my goals, expectations, and plans for the team, and I knew that there was truly only one question that needed to be answered…
“What is best for the team and the girls’ development?”
So, I checked my ego at the door and decided the right thing to do was to allow my pretty awesome assistant coach to be my co-coach and, more times than not, take the lead. The truth is, he’s an exceptional coach; the girls would learn A LOT from him, and so would I. From that point on, I stopped worrying about who was in charge and focused on helping the girls improve and grow.
#4 Remember that every player has a role and is equally important to the team’s success
I call it the Lin Sisters’ effect. I had two players who had never played before, they were best friends, and the park accidentally put them down as sisters. Nobody wanted to draft them because they had never played before and showed little athletic skill in the evaluations. At the time of the draft, the league said they were a package deal because they were sisters. I gladly took them on, and they became one of the brightest spots of the entire season. Their desire to improve and their hard work was inspiring to me and to the entire team. Watching them grow and develop each week was truly a gift. The joy we all felt in their success became a rallying point for the entire team as we all went absolutely crazy with excitement and support each time one of them touched the ball.
#5 Maintain a balance with your own child at home and on the court
After a big loss – an important game and a tight game to the end, my daughter was drained. She had left it all on the court. She sobbed and cried, and I held her there on the gym floor for at least five minutes before I was able to get her to move to the side. During this meltdown, I realized just how much our kids want to please us and how much they seek and need our approval. My typically stoic daughter, who never cries during games of any kind, wanted this so badly because she knew how much I loved the sport and how much I had been putting into this team. Please take caution when coaching your own kid. Even when you think you are presenting a laid-back attitude, they are absorbing EVERYTHING, and they can see through our good-faith attempts to downplay it. If you want them to be happy and well adjusted in the sport, ease off any undue pressure or too much energy around them or the game itself. Try not to make your new coaching gig the only thing you talk about at home. And this goes without saying, but never talk poorly about the other kids or parents to your child. This sends a really bad message to your child.
We ended up winning the championship in dramatic fashion; as the 4th seed team, we had to bite and scratch and claw our way to the top. But we did it, and we couldn’t have been more proud or pumped for our kids.
I have once again sworn off coaching. My hat goes off to all of you men and women who do this consistently for your job or as volunteers. There are few jobs that are more difficult or rewarding than being a coach! Thank you.💛
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