My first coaching “gig” was for a fourth grade flag football team. I was excited and eager to be taking on this new role, but looking back, it was one my worst coaching performances. Learn from my mistakes and understand the importance of explanation to your players.
My Failure to Explain the Basics
I was still in college at the time and had only recently put my high school football days behind me. Though I’d been an athlete my whole life, coaching was going to be a new experience for me. I’d played for many coaches over the years, so I knew what I should be doing. Or so I thought.
Being the newbie that I was, I prepared all sorts of practice plans, drills, formations, and plays. I remember coming to the first day of practice expecting to hand kids a playbook to study at home. Boy was I wrong in my approach. Unfortunately, I didn’t fully realize it until much later.
The problem was I started by using the tactics I had most recently seen from my high school coaches. But they were coaching a team of experienced players that knew the game very well. I was working with a group for fourth graders who were playing organized football for the first time. They didn’t understand of the basics of the game much less some of the nuances.
I ended up making bad assumptions about what they already knew. I coached them like they had the experience level of a high school player. It turned out to be a frustrating season for everyone involved.
As a coach, I was frustrated because I didn’t feel like I could get my players to execute my game plan. The players were frustrated they couldn’t seem to meet my expectations. The parents were likely frustrated because we ended up losing the few games we played.
Learning From My Mistake
I now recognize this as one of my failed coaching seasons, but I learned from the mistakes I made. I keep this story at the front of my mind every time I start a new coaching opportunity. This way, I won’t take for granted what the players may or may not know going into a season.
Explanation Throughout the Season
Every youth coach should start their first few practices out covering the basics of the game. If you have experienced players, you’ll be able to tell and will speed through with just a refresher. If you have any new players, everyone on the team will benefit from them gaining a better understanding of the sport.
Remember to keep this same approach throughout the season. When you introduce something new, make sure you explain any new rules or terminology you are adding.
I once had a youth baseball coach fail to tell me that “take the pitch” meant he wanted me not to swing. I didn’t really know what he meant, so I assumed that he wanted me to swing away. This continued for a couple pitches. I ended up striking out and probably frustrating my coach.
Like I was, most youth players will be reluctant to ask you to explain yourself. They may be shy or feel embarrassed to ask in front of their teammates. When this happens, they make an assumption on your meaning or flat out ignore you.
Questions to Start the Process
As the coach, you need to take the initiative of asking questions of them. When you introduce a new term, take a moment to ask who knows what it means. Let them explain it to you and the team and help correct them if needed. Also remember to ask follow-on questions of your newer players to make sure they really understand.
Kids are very eager to learn from their coach. If you make this part of your normal routine, there will be less frustration all around. Your players will know what they’re doing on the field and it will show in how they operate as a team.
Do have an example as a coach or player when something wasn’t explained well? Leave a comment and let everyone learn from your experience.