How Can You Identify An Effective Youth Sports Coach?
What would you say is the most important ability that a youth sports coach needs to possess in order to be really good at their job?
If you can answer this, you will have a better chance of being an effective coach yourself or, as a parent, of being able to identify an effective coach for your child.
In the following article, I will outline what I think is the most crucial factor in being a great coach of kids. I will also discuss the three broad categories in which I classify coaches according to their ability in this area.
I wonder if you will recognise yourself or your kid’s coach in these categories?
What is Most Crucial to Effective Youth Sports Coaching?
Good coaching involves seeing and basing decisions on more than what is currently happening in front of you.
I call this Big Picture Coaching.
I believe that ‘Big Picture Coaching’ is the most important ability a coach of young athletes can possess.
In the book Conditioning Young Athletes, Tudor Bompa & Michael Carrera state that: “Although many coaches and instructors are competent at designing seasonal training programs, it is essential to look beyond this short-term approach and plan for the athlete’s long-term development.”
We need more ‘Big Picture Coaches’.
‘Big Picture Coaches’ understand that they are a link in the chain of a young athlete’s lifetime of sporting experiences.
Wade Gilbert (@WadeWgilbert), author of the book ‘Coaching Better Every Season’ has tweeted: “‘Don’t break the chain’ – main goal of every youth sport coach should be to extend the chain of athlete development. ‘Win today’ attitude erodes the chain. We need to help coaches see their place in the chain, avoid becoming the last link in the chain.”
Most coaches can be classed under three broad categories when it comes to their ability to look at the big picture.
The categories are outlined below. At what stage are you? At what stage is your child’s coach?
Stage 1: Week-to-Week Coach
Many coaches “survive” moment-to-moment or week-to-week with little regard or understanding of the medium to long-term consequences of their sessions. There is no “big picture”. The immediate session is the whole picture.
The problem with this approach is that these coaches are prone to including anything and everything that they can find or think of, regardless of the developmental stage of the athlete. This is why we see kids pulling sleds, performing high intensity anaerobic sessions or high impact plyometrics with little or no lead-up, and well before the kids are ready for it.
Stage 2: Season-to-Season Coach
A number of coaches coach only for the end-of-season result and nothing beyond that. This is a step up from week-to-week coaching but still has its problems and deficiencies.
When a coach is only focused on an end-of-season result, they risk running a program that is too intense for a young athlete’s stage of development. There is no holding back or keeping anything in reserve for the future as the focus is entirely short-term. They may be working with a progressive seasonal plan, but this plan is the whole picture and can be very short-sighted. This approach will result in many of the same problems caused by the week-to-week approach. Two of the more serious consequences will be athlete burnout and injury.
Stage 3: Big Picture Coach
‘Big Picture Coaches’ have an understanding of long term athlete development. They prepare athletes for their sporting future, not just the next competition. They have patience and a plan. They will consider the appropriateness of an activity for the developmental stage and ability of the athlete. They will make conscious and considered decisions about what and what NOT to include in a program based on the big picture. They will at times “hold back” particular types of training with the aim of it being included at a future time.
One of the biggest problems of this approach is the coach risking under-training an athlete (something that I have never regretted). Such coaches must also expect short-term criticism for a perceived lack of “quick results” and be prepared to face impatient parents. In fact, some coaches who would like to be “Big Picture Coaches” are forced to coach week-to-week or season-to-season by the situation demanded of them by parents or other pressures.
How You Can Encourage More ‘Big Picture Coaching’
1. Sporting Organisations
Some coaches will pass through all three stages as they gain coaching experience. Proper education and awareness can steepen a coach’s learning curve to have them arrive at ‘Big Picture Coaching’ faster than they otherwise would have. Therefore, sports organisations need to strive to get the ‘Big Picture Coaching’ message out there. The effect, however, will be lost if their culture and competition schedules contradict this message and inadvertently pressure coaches away from ‘Big Picture Coaching’.
If you are a coach, start thinking of yourself as being a link in the chain of an athlete’s sporting experience – and be satisfied with that. Be a kid-focused coach that conducts a kid-friendly program. Always remember that it is about the kids and there is no place for coach ego in kids sport.
3. Sports Parents
If you are a sports parent, always ask a coach about their coaching philosophy. Ask them what they hope to achieve during the season. Listen for an answer that reflects a ‘Big Picture Coaching’ approach. Don’t be dazzled by the prospect of quick competitive results. Prepare to be patient and go for the coach who sounds like they are intent on building a strong link in a very long chain.
In summary, we need more ‘Big Picture Coaches’. They are the best coaches for young athletes.
What do you think about this topic?
Do you agree with my assessment of the situation? What is your experience in this area? Let me know by leaving a reply/comment or by using the below contact details.
If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.
Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Anchor or via email.