Coach the Coach

• How to deal with unruly behavior. It’s a simple but unfortunate fact of life that most people, even the most rational ones, behave irrationally at times. Coaches need to be aware that such negative behavior is likely to occur –- from parents and coaches, as well as the players themselves. Good coaches must be prepared to deal with these situations quickly and effectively. Problems that are ignored can undermine the attitude of the entire team and risk making the season miserable for everyone.

• Important safety issues. While injuries are a part of youth sports and can’t be eliminated, the chances of them occurring can be greatly reduced in leagues that have certified coaches. Volunteer coaches not trained in teaching the proper techniques of the sport can put their young athletes at unnecessary risk. For example, a coach who doesn’t teach his or her young players the proper technique for heading a soccer ball will expose them to the risk of suffering head, shoulder, back and neck injuries.

Also in the area of safety, once coaches arrive at the field or court, they must inspect the playing area for potential dangers. For outdoor sports they should keep an eye out for hazards such as broken glass, uneven ground, loose rocks and raised sprinkler heads. Indoors, coaches should be on the lookout for wet or slippery spots on the court, or anything that could cause an injury during the course of play. Every player participating in the game or practice is the coach’s responsibility, and he or she should not rely on the opposing coach or a grounds crew to check the field.

• Proper sportsmanship. Certification programs remind coaches that win-at-all-cost philosophies and poor sportsmanship drain the fun out of a child’s sports experience. They also help remind the coach that his or her behavior toward opposing players, coaches and officials will be emulated by young players. One way a coach can set an example of good sportsmanship before the game begins is to walk over and shake the hand of the opposing coach.

• The importance of a preseason parents meeting. How well a coach communicates with parents or guardians will have a huge impact on the level of everyone’s enjoyment during the season. The first step in laying the foundation for a healthy exchange of information is for coaches to gather the parents for a meeting prior to the first practice of the season. This type of meeting serves several key purposes. It gives coaches the opportunity to introduce themselves in a casual atmosphere, and provides a forum for them to outline everything from their coaching philosophy to their goals for the season. Taking the time to conduct this type of meeting demonstrates to the parents that the coach genuinely cares about the welfare of the participants and wants to ensure that the season runs smoothly. The more comfortable parents feel with the coach, the better the chances the coach will have an open and constructive relationship with them. The first impression coaches make can be a lasting one, so they should approach these meetings with the same diligence and care that they would if they were meeting an important client.

• How to deal with team problems. Problems involving young players can encompass a wide range of behaviors, including everything from disrespecting the coach’s authority and rebelling against rules, to showing up late for practice and failing to bring the proper equipment. Coaches hold the trump card when it comes to these situations, and that’s playing time. The threat of sitting on the bench or being stuck on the sidelines for any period of time is usually enough of a punishment to warrant a turnaround in a child’s behavior. Coaches can do themselves a huge favor at the beginning of the season by outlining ground rules for the team. By being clear and specific about the behaviors that are considered unacceptable, and letting the kids know the possible ramifications for these behaviors, the chances of dicey situations arising can be greatly reduced.

• How to deal with parent problems. Being able to deal with all types of conflicts, no matter how serious or seemingly insignificant, is a vital skill for any volunteer coach. It becomes especially important during tense situations during which the approach you take can make the difference between diffusing a potentially explosive occurrence or adding to its volatility. What may start out as an insensitive remark can easily escalate into something more serious, such as pushing, shoving or full-scale brawling. Not only does such behavior put the combatants themselves, as well as bystanders at risk, it also sends a disturbing message to the children.

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