When my friend Howard checked the box on his son’s soccer registration form to volunteer as a coach, he’d never coached a sport at any level. He played soccer through elementary and high school, but was hardly an expert on the Xs and Os. So he figured he’d sign up as an assistant and learn the ropes under a more experienced head coach. But ready or not, here it came -- an email from the commissioner letting him know the recreation league was low on volunteers.
They needed him to be a head coach on his own.
He knew there’d be a learning curve, but he had a clear vision for what he wanted: fun, up-tempo practices with lots of positive energy that he hoped would pay off on game days.
Fast forward and Howard is now kicking off his fourth-consecutive season as a coach. One of the reasons he’s kept going is that after each year, he’s heard a similar statement from parents: their son or daughter wasn’t that interested in soccer, but now they love it and they’ll be signing up again next year.
You can call that a win. It may be the only one that counts.
There’s no template for what makes the ideal coach. Whether a local volunteer for a Mitey Mite Pop Warner squad or a paid coach at a high school with a serious football program, coaches come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels.
If you’re wondering whether you’re coaching material, don’t worry so much about your pedigree. Instead ask yourself, why do you want to do it? If your answer is that you want to or believe you can help, that’s a great start. And as counterintuitive as its seems, if your answer is, “I want to win games,” that may not be the best sign.
This Old Adage Is Still True: It's Not About Winning Or Losing. It's About How You Play the Game.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Youth sports are about so much more than wins and losses. At its best, the experience of playing on a team is a fount of life lessons; How to work alongside and thrive with people with personalities and backgrounds different than your own, how to handle the emotional ups and downs of triumph and defeat, how to set and achieve measurable goals.
A lot of beginner coaches -- and seasoned coaches, for that matter -- lose sight of it all. They come in with motivations that aren’t necessarily in the best interests of the community – like putting their own kid in a position to become a star – and apply pressures to the team that snuff the joy out of the game. It often manifests in the form of shouting down and embarrassing players at moments when they need guidance and positive feedback; letting talented players slide for bad behavior that corrodes the team morale; and denying playing time and opportunities to kids who want to learn but have fewer physical tools.
People may look the other direction for a while if they’re producing exceptional results on the field, but it will eventually end badly. Fans found Bobby Knight’s chair-throwing antics amusing as he dominated college hoops in the 70s and 80s. But once the floodgates opened with decades of negative stories about his treatment of players, he lost his job and his reputation was damaged beyond repair.
Before you sign up, make sure you know, like Howard did, what kind of team you want to build and what coaches you’d like to emulate. And ask yourself these important questions before you say yes:
- Are you patient?
- Can you handle constructive criticism?
- Do you have the time to commit?
- Are you a good communicator —especially with parents?
But the main question is this: Why do you want to be a coach?
Take our Coach Self-Assessment questionnaire to help focus on the kind of coach you’d like to be.