By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
We take them for granted. Once we’ve gotten parents to “step up to the plate,” and volunteer to coach a team, we often breathe a sigh of relief and figure now that that’s taken care of we can get on to more important issues. However, the way you manage your volunteer coaches throughout the season might determine whether or not they come back to do it again next year. And maybe more importantly, it could also be what determines if some players return as well.
It is natural, even necessary, when involved in a youth sports league at the Board of Directors level, to take a “macro” view of the league. We are required to look at the big picture, plan strategically and think about what is best for the organization as a whole. Yet, we would all agree that the sole purpose of any youth sports organization is to provide a positive experience for each child participating. Things like concessions, uniforms, trophies, fundraising and a myriad of other issues that consume our thinking are all important to the overall health of our leagues. But the bottom line is that for each boy and girl participating, the only thing that really matters is what happens on the field at each game and practice. Wouldn’t it be a shame if there was a child who decided not to play next season who may have come back if we’d done a better job “coaching” our coaches?
What can we do to help our coaches be the best they can be? Well, aside from the more obvious steps we may take such as providing education, training and useful materials, (like CoachDeck), there are ways to successfully manage our volunteers throughout the season.
We all know how busy everyone on the board is. Most division coordinators are probably also coaching a team, in addition to attending board meetings and other responsibilities. Asking them to take more time to go out and observe other team’s practices and games means stretching them even more thinly. However, people respect what you inspect, and even if it is just for a few minutes, the things we can learn by observation about the way coaches are interacting with kids and how the kids are responding to the coaches can be invaluable. Anyone who has been in the workplace in the “real world,” knows that the most effective managers don’t hide in an office, but get out and work with the troops in the field.
Another technique along the same lines, which is one that will net desired results in less time, is to make occasional quality-check phone calls to parents. I would recommend that, before the season, you let your coaches know that from time-to-time you will be contacting some of their parents just to get their input on how the year is going. It is important that your coaches know that your allegiance is to them first and foremost, and that your intentions are not to dig up problems, but just to make sure parents understand that the organization cares how their children are doing and is available to handle any potential concerns. I can tell you from personal experience that it is very rewarding to hear three or four parents from one team consecutively tell me that the coach is doing a wonderful job. By the same token, if more than one parent conveys negative feedback, that might be a team I want to observe in person on the field.
A weekly email to each division’s coaches, maybe every Monday, can also be helpful. This email can simply be a recap of the previous week’s accomplishments and a forum to communicate important information, scheduling changes and other updates. If you must address problems, such as improper storing of equipment, care of fields and facilities, etc. it is important not to single anyone out and embarrass them in front of their peers. If your communications gradually turn into weekly admonishments, you can count on having to recruit a whole new crop of coaches next year. However, if you go out of your way to point out things you’ve seen and heard that your coaches are doing well, and provide tips that will be helpful to all, they’ll look forward to hearing from you. Be positive. tell them how much you appreciate them.
And finally, it is a terrific idea to ask for for end-of-season coaches evaluations from your parents so their opinions can be heard. It is understandable that parents may be reluctant to say something negative about a coach for fear it might get back to him, especially since we’re talking about community sports. Therefore, many leagues allow parents to fill out evaluation forms anonymously. However, it is also important to know that allowing parents to evaluate anonymously could pave the way for some to negatively critique a coach who was actually solid and fair, simply because they felt their child should have played more and/or at a different position. A league in which I was involved allowed for anonymous evaluations, but stated on the evaluation form that those which were signed would carry more weight. And when you do run pre-season coaches clinics, how about asking some of the more highly-evaluated returning coaches to share some tips with the others?
If you want to look at the health and success of a youth recreational sports league, you need look no further than the cadre of coaches interacting with the players each day. An organization in which these volunteers are prepared, enthusiastic, appreciated and well-managed makes the experience more enjoyable for the coaches, parents, board and, most importantly, the kids.
Brian Gotta is a former professional recreational youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is President of Help Kids Play, a collection of companies whose mission is to further the development and enjoyment of youth sports.