By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck LLC
Volunteer coaches, especially those who lacks experience, often feel confused about their duties and responsibilities. And while there are many, two stand far above the rest, both of which can be accomplished by anyone. Yet the people who run youth leagues frequently fail to recognize this and, consequently, struggle to attract and retain volunteer coaches.
What are the two most important things coaches of children 4-14 should focus on? Make it safe. Make it fun. The teaching of technical skills and trying to win are much lower priorities.
So many youth leagues don't get it. So many parents don't get it. We, at CoachDeck, work with thousands of organizations across the country and frequently hear of their attempts to get their unpaid coaches to run professional-level practices. Much of this comes as a result of pressure from parents who expect their youngster to dramatically improve from a skill level, or else. And, these parents also want to sit in the stands and cheer a winning team. That's how we measure achievement. So what does this mindset lead to?
Moms and dads who are asked to coach don't want that kind of pressure. As a Little League board member I have tried to convince hundreds of parents to help out with coaching duties and heard over and over again the excuse that they didn't have the time. Yet those same people were at every game sitting in the stands. I realized it wasn't time that held them back. They didn't want to be embarrassed, or ridiculed by other parents if they didn't know how to properly teach a skill or if their team lost most of its games.
Yet, still, leagues and parents expect thorough, comprehensive coaching and then wonder why the average mom or dad is unwilling to volunteer. Coaches are often given scripted lesson plans or elaborate, intimidating skill tutorials that are high school or college level in their complexity, but lack any spontaneity or fun.
Why are safety and fun the two most important components of any youth sports practice? Because we want kids to keep playing. They can't play if they're hurt. And they won't play if it's no fun. In the eleven years we've been working with youth leagues we've seen a dramatic change in the expectations leagues have for their coaches. And we've also seen a dramatic drop in the number of children participating. The numbers are sobering. I've written about it before, and while technology and video games have their share of the blame, the fact that we're focusing more and more on winning and on potential scholarships has drained much of the appeal out of recreational sports for the average child. Consequently, while leagues and parents think they're doing the right thing for the youngsters and the coaches, they're left wondering why fewer come back each year.
We created CoachDeck with those coaches and kids in mind. What we hear from leagues using our product is that more coaches are willing to step up and run a team because they know they've got a helper in their pocket. They return for a new season because they feel they did a better job. And more kids sign up again since they had fun.
Ask any potential volunteer if they have the makings of a great coach they'll immediately believe you're asking them if they “know” the game and can teach it. They'll think you're asking if they can win the championship. Wouldn't it be nice if we asked that question and the response was, “Yes. I'll make everyone is safe and we'll have a blast.”
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