So you signed up to coach a youth sports team. Most likely your own child is on the team and you are an unpaid volunteer. This is your first time coaching but that doesn’t mean you can’t be awesome at it! Follow these basics and you’ll be well on your way to to becoming a successful youth coach.
This article covers the generic things you need to know to coach any sport. Look for my follow-on articles that provide more specifics for each individual sport.
Before you get started, you need to correctly set your expectations of yourself and your team. This is your first time coaching so you shouldn’t expect to be the next Vince Lombardi right away.
You should expect that you will make some mistakes along the way. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you recognize them as learning experiences.
Your team will also make mistakes. The younger they are, the more mistakes they will make. Again, these mistakes can be a great opportunity to learn. Recognize them for what they are and take advantage of them.
You also need to baseline your expectations of the kids’ experience and abilities. If you’re coaching a bunch of first year players don’t expect to coach them like high school athletes. I made this mistake early in my coaching career. I expected too much from the kids and our season was not successful.
I can not stress enough that you as the coach need to become knowledgeable about the game. Many leagues provide or require training for their coaches. The training clinics that I’ve attended in the past have not been that impressive. Most clinics focus on drills to run and fail to really teach the game and effective strategies of play.
Even if you attend a coaching clinic, you need to do some extra training on your own. It’s important you understand the rules of the game. You may think you understand them but there are always fine points that you should review. Intricate rules to review include offside in soccer and infield fly in baseball.
Additionally, you should understand any rules customization for your league or age division. It’s common for leagues to change rules to fit the skill level of the younger age groups. Examples may be no full court press in basketball or no stealing in baseball. Understanding this will help you focus on the most important areas for coaching. It also helps clear up discrepancies you may encounter with other coaches.
Communication is a key element in trying to organize a team of kids and their parents. When my kids were being coached by others, I preferred over-communication rather than under-communication.
It’s extremely frustrating when parents do not hear from the coach for long periods of time. This is especially true if your schedule has a tendency to fluctuate. It makes it very difficult for parents to schedule their other family activities.
I recommend using Google calendar to organize your schedule. If you have a Google account, you can create a calendar specifically for your team. You can share that calendar to the parents who can link it with their own Google accounts. They can even add it to the calendar app on the phone to get reminders. In a future post, I will go through the detailed steps of how to use Google calendar for scheduling.
I also recommend sending a weekly email to parents. This email should contain the schedule of events coming up for the following week. They should already have this information from the calendar, but it helps to remind them in an email. You can also include any other pertinent information for that week.
For last minute schedule changes such as weather-related cancellations, text messages work best. There are several services that you can sign up for to send texts to your team. I’ve found the simplest method is to be sending a group text message via your phone’s messaging app.
Parents should be expecting some costs associated with their child playing sports. Your decisions as a coach will influence their level of monetary commitment. It’s best to have a plan at the very beginning of the year for costs. Remember to include the following:
- League fees
- Tournament fees
- Team equipment costs
- Player equipment costs
- Uniform fees
- Travel expenses
- Team extras (medals, awards, etc.)
Make sure that you communicate your cost expectations to the parents right away. If you’ve done a good job in understanding your team, everyone will be on-board with the costs you’ve laid out.
You will also need to determine how you intend to collect player fees and pay for your expenses. If you intend to keep the team over multiple years, it may be appropriate to open a checking account for the team. This is also a great idea if the team will be generating income from hosting tournaments. This way, the money is set aside and you can pass on account ownership to another coach if needed.
If team expenses will be small, it may be easiest to pay out of pocket and reimburse yourself with player fees. This requires confidence that it will not break your budget and that you will actually get paid back. This has worked well for me, but I had good relationships with my team’s parents.
Your equipment needs will vary based on the sport, but there are some common things to consider. At the start of the season, you need to think about your coaching equipment needs as well as the needs of the players.
Since this is your first time coaching, you may need to buy some basic equipment for practices. The good news is that you can reuse coaching equipment each year future years will be cheaper. And most of the time, you can use team funds to buy your coaching equipment. Just make sure that the parents understand you are buying things for use by the team.
Player equipment is anything that you require or suggest for your players. Remember that any equipment you list is a cost increase for the parents. It’s best to only require the basics and make other equipment recommendations optional. For optional equipment, it’s best to have a couple shareable items with your coaching gear.
See my follow-on articles for more specifics equipment needs for each sport.
Some leagues provide uniforms, but if yours doesn’t you will need to buy them on your own. If you have a local screen printing place with a good selection of uniform designs, you can use them. There are also online options available if you prefer to shop from your computer.
I choose to order mine online from allsportsuniforms.net. They have a good selection of uniforms for all sports, are well priced, and are quick to process orders. I’ve ordered from them many times and highly recommend them.
When selecting uniforms, remember to be practical. Some trendy uniforms can get quite expensive and they often are not worth the cost. You can get very professional looking uniforms for a good value.
Make sure that the store will carry the uniform you choose for a few years. Parents will want to purchase a uniform and reuse it for several years to save costs. When your team outgrows their uniforms, see if another local team can use them. This only works if you get uniforms without names on them. This is the reason I’ve always avoided adding names to my team uniforms.
Do your best to schedule a month worth of practices in advance so people have time to adjust schedules. I recommend having 5-8 practices before games start. This depends on the age level of the kids and the sport you are coaching.
Some coaches prefer to have a set day and time for practices, but I actually recommend varying this. Many kids have other activities they are juggling. Changing your practice times will help ensure everyone has a chance to make it to some practices.
Practice Frequency and Duration
The frequency and duration of practices needs to be set based on the age division. It’s easy to accidentally go overboard on practices. Remember that as a balanced coach you want to make sure that the kids don’t burn out on practice and get bored.
The chart below is a guideline that I’ve used in the past that has worked well. This needs to be further adjusted based on the number of games you play during the week. When there are more games in a week, scale back on practices.
|8 and Under (8U)||Weekly||1 hour|
|10 and Under (10U)||Weekly||1 – 1.5 hour|
|12 and Under (12U)||Weekly||1.5 hour|
|14 and Under (14U)||Up to Twice Weekly||1.5 hour|
Before each practice, you should have a good idea of what you want to work on for that session. Usually, you can address areas you’ve seen in games that need improvement. Don’t overdo it and attempt to plan practice activities down to the minute. Instead, prepare your ideas and let the flow of the practice dictate when you move on to something new.
A good guideline for the flow of practice looks like this:
- Greet each player as they arrive to help build a relationship with them
- Start with dynamic warm-ups
- Discuss with the team the goals of that practice and your practice plan
- Work on 2-3 skills or concepts applicable to the team’s needs
- Game-like scrimmage
- End with a quick verbal review of the skills you worked on
Your first few practices should focus on basic skills and strategies of the game. Don’t assume that the kids know the basics already. Remember to explain things to them even if they seem elementary to you. When games begin, you want the kids to understand the situations they will encounter.
Leagues or Tournaments
Before the season, you need decide if your team will focus game play on leagues, tournaments, or both. I recommend league play with a couple tournaments as that seems to be a good balance.
Make sure the parents are aware of your intentions before getting everyone involved. If your plan does not meet their expectation, there are likely other options for them. Don’t let a parent convince you to schedule games or tournaments that aren’t right for the team. You’re in charge so stick to your plan.
Coach’s Game Plan
You should create a game plan before the game starts consisting of positions for the players throughout the game. Have a pen or pencil ready because the best laid plans can (and will) be broken. You will have to make plenty of game-time adjustments based on the flow of the game. If the game is clearly in your favor, make adjustments so kids get to play other positions and learn more about the game.
If your team is large enough that people have to sit out, you need to rotate your sitters so that everyone is getting playing time. That means you will sometimes be sitting your better players and putting your less experienced ones on the field. Kids at this age need to be playing in order to learn and improve so getting them in the game is key. It also helps for your top players to take some bench time for rest.
On game days, ask your players to arrive 30 minutes before game time to get warmed up. This also provides some buffer for people that may be late. People will be late, but you as a balanced coach need to go with the flow.
Create a standard warm up routine that you always use before games. Include your dynamic warm-ups as well as a simple drill to get them focused on the game. Before game time, talk through any notes for the game and assign starting positions.
Before they take the field do something to get the team excited and to boost team unity. I like to use a breakdown. This usually involves the whole team chanting or yelling something while in a huddle. A break down is very personal to a team so you will have find something that the kids like. Make sure the breakdown is not a halfhearted effort or it will not create the enthusiasm they need for the game. That means just putting hands in the circle and yelling “Go Team!” won’t cut it.
Starting with this guide, you should be able to prepare yourself for your first role as a youth sports coach. You’ll also want to check out my related follow-on articles for each sport. Those articles will provide more details such as equipment needs, coaching needs, etc.
If you have any other tips for how to prepare for a first time coaching role, please leave them in the comments.