Put Me In Coach: Setting the Tone for a Positive Experience

Put Me In Coach: Setting the Tone for a Positive Experience

By Dr. Darrell J. Burnett

Some coaches have a difficult time handling the youth sports atmosphere, and some may underestimate their importance to their players.

The No. 1 reason why kids come back is positive coaching. Coaches must grasp the idea that their role is important. When I talked to coaches and we define a successful coach, it isn’t determined by their win-loss record. The coach has to keep the kids involved.

There are four needs a coach must establish for a child to keep him or her returning to youth sports.

  1. A sense of belonging.
    If the children cannot find a group to come to them, they’ll go to the group. The coach can add to that sense of belonging by making the child feel like part of the team. This point leads to the second need. 
  2. To feel worthwhile.
    If the coach relates to the kid as a person and as a member of the team, it will add to the value of youth sports. 
  3. A sense of dignity.
    The coach’s job is to treat the children with respect, and let them know they will be treated with respect simply for coming out and playing. 
  4. A sense of control.
    The coach lets the children know they are in control of their own destiny, and lets them work their way into a role on the team.

The other job of the coach is to control the parents to prevent a situation from getting out of hand. The first step is to define unruly behavior.

If you’re going to deal with unruly parents, you’ve got to have it all spelled out before the season begins. A preseason meeting with the parents can help prevent any unwanted situation. Coaches need to tell parents that offensive language, and the berating of players, coaches and officials are unacceptable. The coach also must provide consequences for any action considered inappropriate.

If there is a situation, the first step is to remain calm, otherwise you can feed the fire.

When a situation occurs, the coach has to have some way of dealing with it. One way is to have other parents who participated in the preseason meeting talk to the offending parent to try to calm him or her down. After the event occurs, the coach must become the teacher, so the parent understands what he or she did wrong and why it was considered unacceptable. The coach has to look for the positives in every situation.


Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. As a member of the National Speakers Association he is active on the lecture circuit. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website, www.djburnett.com, along with his other books, booklets, and audio cassettes on youth sports and family life.

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