By Dr. Darrell Burnett
Create team spirit.
Another goal of the coach is to get the Youth Leaguer to think “we” instead of “me”. This is difficult in the lower levels because of the immaturity and developmental levels of the player. However, from the beginning, there should be a clear message that criticism among players is not acceptable. Asking players to identify specific progress in the other players on the team helps set up a positive team approach. Players should be encouraged and praised for cheering the other members of the team during the game whether on the field or on the bench. Team “chatter” and cheers should be encouraged, but only cheers which support team members, not cheers which antagonize or attempts to “rattle” the other team. All team members should be encouraged to be “good sports” toward the other team before, during, and after each game.
Although some players will be seem as “heroes” for some game winning feat, a coach needs to make sure that each team member gets significant recognition. Individual captains for each game is one way of making sure that each player gets, some leadership opportunities.
Parental involvement can be very helpful for developing team spirit. Recognition of the team “mom” is very important. Involvement of all parents by the coach can go a long way towards developing team spirit. A letter to all parents describing your overall coaching philosophy can be helpful in eliciting parent involvement. They can also be encouraged to cheer for all the players. But, remember, parents also have a life beyond Youth League.
Look for positives.
As a Youth League manager or coach it is important to avoid the “criticism trap”. If a player hears mainly negative comments and receives attention for negative behaviors, the Youth Leaguer can quickly lose self confidence and even a desire to play. One of the best things a coach can do is to “catch the Youth Leaguer doing well”. There should be a “four-to-one” ratio of positive remarks to critical remarks. Thus, for every “correction” there should be at least four (4) “pats on the back”. Correction is sometimes necessary, but encouragement should be the norm. A coach can be a real factor in building a youngster’s confidence by noting all the positive things that go on with each player.
Laugh a Lot.
It is really important as a manager or coach to realize there is “life beyond Youth League”. We run the risk of taking ourselves too seriously. A sense of humor is essential, both in managers and coaches, and in plyaers. Smiling and laughing adds to relaxation, which adds to productivity and enhancement of performance.
It is important for both manager and coach to attend to specific achievements rather than to make general statements. “good game”, “nice try” are less effective than “i liked your swing”, or “I liked the way you shot the ball”. When you praise specific behavior in a player, you have a better chance that the youngster will remember what you said, and pay attention to it, and believe it!
Repeat, repeat, repeat! Most Youth Leaguers are not one-time learners. They need to be told over and over and over. It may seem boring at times, but the manager or coach needs to repeat instructions several times. Obviously, as the player moves from level to level there is less need for repetition. However, time spent on the earlier levels repeating basic instructions is well spent.
Finally, it is important to remember that…
AFTER ALL IS SAID AND DONE, HAVING FUN IS “NUMBER ONE”
when it comes to Youth League Programs.
Youngsters learn better and remember more when they’re having fun.
The successful coach is one who teaches skills, sportsmanship, and teamwork in an overall atmosphere of “fun and games”.
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.