By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
I review a lot of online articles about recreational and competitive sports. I read the comments after the article (and should probably stop doing that), and continue seeing the theme of, “I got tired of coaching kids who didn't want to be there,” or my son or daughter “stopped playing rec because of all the kids who don't want to be there.”
Well I've coached hundreds of kids in both rec and travel leagues and I can't think of anyone on any of my teams who “didn't want to be there.” Maybe I was just lucky.
Or, maybe this is code for, “he's not a good player.” As in, “I got tired of coaching players who weren't as talented as my son.” Or, “My daughter got tired of playing with others who weren't at her level.”
This reminds me of my days organizing youth league divisions in baseball at the youngest age groups and having to confront some of the volunteer coaches about never letting a child play infield. They would say, “I'm afraid he's going to get hurt.” So, you see, they weren't selfishly trying to put the best players where there was the best chance for them to have every ball come to them. No, they were just looking out for the well-being of the kids who weren't as good at catching.
Imagine if schoolteachers reacted this way. Why is this student failing in math? “He just doesn't want to be here so I'm tired of teaching him.” Why can't she read very well? “It hurts her confidence to make her try to read, so she's happier not having to do it.”
See, I think if you, as a coach, have kids who don't want to be there you'd better look in the mirror. If your life depended on their enjoying their experience, I'll guarantee they would. In fact, if I told you I'd give you a hundred bucks to make them want to be there you'd pull it off. It starts by acting happy to see them when they show up instead of ignoring them and making it evident you wish they weren't on your team. Smile, joke around with them. Do activities that involve everyone, not just the stars. Hold competitions where they have a chance to make a positive contribution. Make sure you find something good they did at every practice and game, and praise them. Tell them, in front of everyone else, what they did today to help the team. Explain mistakes they make with patience, not aggravation. Then give them a chance to try again and make a big deal about how they get it right. Guess what? Now those kids want to be there.
Have you considered that maybe some of these youngsters don't have parents as involved as you? Maybe they don't have a mom or dad asking if they want to play catch or kick the ball around after work. The fact that they aren't as talented doesn't necessarily mean they don't have it in them or they don't “want it.”. They just don't have the same advantages. They lack the help they need to reach their potential. Isn't it a great honor and privilege to be in a position to offer that help? To be the one responsible for their being the best they can be?
Imagine this child has wanted to play his whole life. He's seen other kids out there with their parents and has just been bursting for a chance to get on the field too. He knows he's going to do great and it's going to be so fun. Then he finds out, to his dismay, that its harder than it looks. That most of the other kids are more advanced and everything comes easy to them. He's at a crossroads between embarrassment, self-consciousness and a burning desire to do well. Between really wanting to be there and starting to not. You're his coach. What are you going to do about it?
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org