As coaches, or in fact simply as humans we like to feel like we are making a difference. We like to feel that we are helping, even to the point of annoyance at times. From this perspective it makes sense that as a coach we want to help when something is going wrong. However, when a coach directs from the sidelines, instead of developing trust in the player’s ability to make decisions, a player is caught between two activities, listening to the coach, and trying to repeat the things they have learned in practice. The yelling from the sidelines just becomes a distraction at best, and destroys confidence at worst.
So what should a coach be doing when the game is happening? Watching, observing, and encouraging. They don’t have to be silent, encouraging words of support when a player does something goes a long way. If a player makes a mistake or diverts from the plan, wait until they are off the field to ask what happened and why. They may have had an amazing idea or found the confidence to try something new. These are things coaches should be encouraging. When a player is under constant direction how can a coach know if the player is learning how to make good decisions? How does a coach know if they are doing well as a coach if they are unable to see the growth of a player on the field?
If a youth coach spends their game time trying to direct performances during play, how much time are they observing and learning what to go over in the next practice? If they are caught up in the moment how focused are they on their actual role of building for the future? For every moment they distract one of their players on the field they are creating a moment where a player isn’t focused fully on the game, and that moment could be pivotal. And when that momentary lapse of concentration happens is it the coach or the player who takes the pressure on themselves and takes the hit on confidence?
The true measure of a youth coach is not in how many trophies ‘they’ have won, or whether ‘they’ won their last game. The true measure of a youth coach may not be seen for many years, but it will be seen when the player gets into high school or university. It will be seen when the player is no longer reliant on being the biggest, fastest, or strongest (which tend to equalise over the years) but in how well the player is able to read a game and make the game-changing decisions. It is seen when a player is able to be gracious in both victory and defeat. It is seen when a player supports a team-mate who scored an own goal, or made a potentially confidence destroying mistake.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – We all want to make a difference and create the best outcome. Sometimes the best outcome in the long-run is to let someone fail and support them as they discover new ways to overcome challenges.
2 – We learn from our experiences. When we direct experiences for others we are robbing them of their own opportunities to navigate challenges, losses, and new solutions to problems.
3 – Kids are not little adults. Their brains haven’t fully developed, there are differences in how they understand concepts and learn. We have to be mindful of this as we coach, and it is no easy thing.
One final note on this. As I learned and changed my approach from winning to performance improvement and development, I noticed the team won more games and more tournaments. Focusing on results will only take you so far, but focusing on the things that get you results will take a little longer, but the behaviours will also last longer.