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When coaching a youth sports team, it’s of the utmost importance to set the tone right from the get-go in order to have a successful season. This is especially true if it’s a team’s first time together, or if you are adding a number of new players to the roster.
As head coach, your focus should naturally be on the kids, but by taking a proactive approach in interfacing with your parent base, you will better be able to meet your objectives all season long. Here are four tips to ensure a successful season.
1. Make First Contact
As the season grows closer, parents and children alike are equally excited to learn what team they are on, review schedules, and collect uniforms. Be ready to make contact as early as possible, and send out a comprehensive message written in a positive tone that addresses everything that families need to prepare for the start the season. It may take a few extra minutes of your time to include directions to playing fields and details about practice – not to mention reminders about personal safety and equipment requirements – but it will surely save you in the long run.
- Carefully review each statement for clarity to guard against any misunderstanding.
- Add a personal note about who you are and what makes you qualified as a coach.
- Invite parents to contact you with any questions or concerns.
- Ask that families confirm receipt of the communication, and follow up with anyone who does not respond.
- Save a copy of the letter to edit and reuse with each new season.
2. Call a Meeting
Choose a time before the start of the season for a meeting, whether combined with a first practice or uniform distribution. Ask that players be accompanied by a parent or guardian, and make it clear that all are welcome. This is a time for your team to make introductions, fill out paper work, and go over rules.
Create a relaxed environment in which you are able to express your expectations and share your philosophy, while providing answers for parents that have voiced relevant concerns. This is also a great time to confirm contact information and encourage networking for car pools.
- Go over all rules, safety guidelines, or sportsmanship pledges with the players and parents, and have them sign and initial written copies in confirmation.
- Choose themes for the season that are simple, yet resonate, such as teamwork, sportsmanship, and respect.
- Take the opportunity to finalize any forms, paperwork, or medical releases.
- Come up with a team name, and include everyone in the process of nominations and voting.
- Let the parents know the importance of their role, from getting the kids to the field on time, to lending encouragement throughout the games.
3. Delegate Responsibility
It’s hard enough holding the attention of a large group of kids without having to deal with endless peripheral distractions. One of the biggest mistakes a coach can make is to not coordinate with assistant coaches, assigning specific responsibilities based on individual strengths.
One great way to kill two birds with one stone is to inquire if individuals would like to be involved with the team, thus winning the allegiance of eager parents while lightening the workload. Whether it’s being in charge of bringing ice and a first aid kit, communicating weekly game and practice reminders, or helping to set up and break down fields and equipment, the feeling of unity and involvement will have a pervasive effect. This will also help parents save money on their kids playing organized sports.
- Be open to the ideas of assistant coaches, and provide opportunities to lead drills and discuss strategy.
- Make it a priority to address issues that are taking your focus from core responsibilities, especially when it affects player safety.
- Approach parents for volunteering in a way that maintains privacy, as personal issues or scheduling obligations may prohibit them from stepping forward.
- Show your appreciation for individuals who are able to help out.
- Lend support to parents interested in learning more about coaching and volunteering.
4. Lead by Example
There’s a lot of truth in the old saying, “Monkey see, monkey do,” and that goes for adults as well as kids. It’s your goal to establish a sideline culture that harbors healthy competition, recognizes effort, and celebrates the finest aspects of the game.
As coach, you are the leader, which means all eyes are on you to set the example, whether it’s showing up for practices on time or treating officials with respect. By stopping to remove potentially hazardous materials from the field or taking a moment to compliment an opposing player, your actions influence everyone around you.
- Don’t ask families to follow rules that you can’t live by yourself.
- Treat all players, especially your own, consistently.
- Never put winning above having fun.
- Make it clear that in every case, safety comes first.
- Don’t forget to smile – it’s just a game.
On the field, more than anything, the game is about the kids, but that doesn’t mean adults don’t play a huge role in the overall experience. By getting off on the right foot with parents by supplying the information they need, clearly expressing expectations, and leading by example, you are setting your season up for success. With a well-organized coaching staff, supportive fan base, and positive sideline environment, the spotlight will stay on the players and the game, where it belongs.
What other tips can you suggest to youth league coaches?