By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
When I began my career right out of college a man, Tony Arminio, who eventually became a mentor of mine used to run sales meetings and would conclude them by asking the group, “What helped you the most?” At first, I thought this question was slightly egotistical, as if he were looking for compliments. Later, when I was in his shoes I realized what a brilliant coaching tactic this was.
I began to employ this same technique as a volunteer youth coach and it worked even better in this setting. Instead of asking them what helped them the most, after nearly every practice when I had the team take a knee for some final instruction I asked, “What did you learn today?”
Volunteer coaches, especially those without much experience, may feel hesitant to pose this question to their players. What if no one raises their hand? What if no one can tell me what they learned? That possibility can, understandably, be a little scary. And, I guess the truth is, if you spent the entire practice without providing any meaningful instruction it could happen.
But as long as you're out there teaching – even if you're not an expert, even if you're just teaching the most basic fundamentals – your players will be eager to share something positive with you. First, by nature, they want to please you...their coach. And kids love to show off. They love to talk. They like looking smart and they are smart enough to know that by saying they learned something they are complimenting you, which means you'll approve. All told that means you probably don't have to worry about hearing crickets after you ask.
And what's the benefit? Well, we all need a little ego stroke now and then don't we? But seriously, here's what you'll gain:
Presumably you've covered a lot during practice. You can't expect your players' short-term memories to capture everything and convert it to long-term memory. So this step of asking players to speak about points of instruction reminds them of something they may have forgotten otherwise, thus solidifying it.
Let's say you covered a dozen important topics during practice. It is possible that some kids retained all of it. But we all know there's a good chance that some of them were not listening or paying attention at certain moments. So those players missed those points entirely. Now, during the post practice huddle, those items are brought up again and heard for the first time by some.
I would ask every player on my team to come up with something. That meant that as kids were waiting their turn to be called they were also thinking through the entire practice, racking their brains for tidbits of knowledge they gained and could report to me. Would anyone not want their team to go through that level of introspection after a practice? Sure beats a hands-in, 1, 2, 3 chant and then off to their parents' cars where much is quickly forgotten.
Another tremendous benefit to getting their feedback is how it allows you to elaborate on points you made. We all know that during practice we sometimes mention something in passing but keep moving because we have a lot that needs to get done. You'll be pleasantly surprised how often a player chooses something you thought was insignificant as what made an impact on him. This not only shows you where you might want to focus more attention next time, but gives you a chance to flesh that point out with further explanation.
Finally, maybe the greatest benefit is in the participation from everyone. Usually on sports teams there are big shots and role-players. The big shots get all the attention. Often, the little guys feel left out and ignored. But in this setting, everyone is equally important. You want input from player number one to player number twelve just as much. Play your cards right and this exercise will have the bit players standing up a little straighter and feeling more confident, more important. You'll find that what helped them the most might help you even more.
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