The Art of Being a Successful Youth League Coach (Part 1 of 3)

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

So you want to be a Youth League Manager or Coach! Congratulations, you’ve make the first step for a very influential role in the life of a youngster.

There’s an art to being a manager or coach in the Youth Leagues. You have to be a combination teacher, parent, cheerleader, and counselor!

And remember, being successful as a manager or coach is not necessarily reflected in the win-loss column of your team. The ultimate measure is whether your players end up the season seeing themselves as winners regardless of their place in the standings!

From the T-baller chasing the butterfly instead of the ball, to the upper level kid who’s a “natural”, each Youth Leaguer will be building memories, and you will have an opportunity to help make them positive.

Here are some basic guidelines which may help you enjoy your experience as a coach.
Assess and teach specific skills.
Be reasonable in your expectations.
Avoid confusion.
Set an example of good sportsmanship.
Empathize. Get into their shoes.
Be specific. Never presume anything.
Acknowledge progress.
Look for positives in each individual.
Laugh a lot.
Compliment specifics.
Amplify Successes.
Create team spirit.
Have fun.

Assess and teach specific skills.
Each Youth Leaguer should be given the opportunity to become aware of the various skills needed in the game and should also have the opportunity of learning and practicing those skills. Obviously, some players will respond more quickly than others. But each youngster deserves attention. A simple checklist of the basic skills in hitting, pitching and throwing, and fielding can be used as an opportunity for each manager and coach to teach and measure progress in each player.

The emphasis needs to be on teaching and not criticizing. If a Youth Leaguer makes a “mistake”, this should become an opportunity to learn how to do it correctly rather than an opportunity for “feeling bad” about making a mistake.
Be reasonable in your expectations.

Obviously, expectations of level of play will vary from T-Ball to upper levels. Attention span is often very short at the lower levels. Managers and coaches at lower levels will become frustrated if they expect total attention, dedication, and motivation to the game of baseball. It is important for all of us to remember that, out of millions and millions of Youth Leaguers, only a few ever become professional baseball players.

In summary, the manager or coach should neither overestimate nor underestimate the skills, emotions, and behaviors of a youth Leaguer.

Avoid confusion.
Youth Leaguers do better in a structured and consistent environment. The more the manager or coach anticipates details and attends to them before practice and/or games, the more time can be spent on teaching and playing the game. Lineup cards, equipment inventory and field preparations are just a few of the items which often times, if put off till the last minute, add to confusion when the player shows up for practice or games. Visual aids often are helpful in “spelling out” expectations which the coach has for the players. A blackboard in the dugout may help for listing lineups, positions, etc.

It is important that the manager and coach present a “united front” to the players so that they do not get mixed messages.

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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