The Art of Being a Successful Youth Coach (Part 2)

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

Set an example of good sportsmanship.
It is essential that the manager and coach be roll models for their players in all the areas of sportsmanship including interactions with the umpire, with other teams, with players on the same team, and with parents. Players are looking to their manager and coach for leadership and will pickup quickly on temper tantrums, sarcasm, put-downs, and hazing.

Empathize. Get into their shoes.
Empathize is extremely important in manager and coach. Seeing the Youth League experience through the eyes of the Youth Leaguer is essential.

  • Some have had very little experience.
  • Some have little or no encouragement from parents.
  • Some are playing “for their parents’ sake”.
  • Some are experiencing “family problems”.
  • Some have a very low self esteem.
  • Some have a long habit of “temper tantrums”.
  • A manager should not take reactions from players “personally”.Youth Leaguers, at any level, are still growing physically and emotionally and are likely to have “good days” and “bad days”.
Be specific – never presume anything.
Spell it out! Many Youth Leaguers, especially those in lower levels, do not understand baseball jargon. Phrases like “step into the ball”, “round first”, “hit the cutoff man” can be baffling to a youngster who tends to take things literally. When giving instructions, always ask the player to repeat what you said and to show you a visual example. Visual drawings on blackboards, various “hands on” walk-through exercises on the field with players, and “what-if” quiz games with the players can be very helpful in getting them to understand your expectations.

Acknowledge progress.
One job of a Youth League coach is to help each youngster develop confidence and see progress while learning the game. A player who is taught to see some progress at each practice and game has a good chance of increasing self-confidence.

Progress can be noted in three areas:
Frequency – How often
Duration – How long it lasts
Intensity – How much emotion is used
Using the following checklists or just observing players, a manager or coach can always find some progress to point out each player.
  • Baseball Skills Checklist
  • Positive Behavior Checklist

Frequency (i.e., moved forward on the ball as an infielder twice);

Duration (i.e., paid attention to the game while in the outfield for two consecutive batters without picking dandelions or waving to friends at the smack bar);

Intensity (i.e., ran out a grounder with full speed).

It is helpful to get players to recognize progress in each other.

Amplify successes.
When a player does something correctly, it is extremely important that the manager or coach respond with lots of enthusiasm and excitement. Often, we tend to be animated in our response to a mistake, and somewhat calm when giving praise. For the Youth Leaguer, the opposite needs to happen.

That is, the coach needs to show lots of enthusiasm and excitement and animation when giving praise, and should try to remain calm and supportive when reacting to a mistake.

By Dr. Darrell Burnett. Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice in Laguna Niguel, California for 25+ years. He is a member of the Little League International Board of Directors. He was listed among the “Top 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America” by the Institute for International Sport.

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