Coaching is like speaking another language because youth players all want to be a hero. They want to dodge through five opponents, or go for the big check, or stay on the field because they just subbed in and you are wrong about taking them out. You can see the head coach roll his eyes from sixty yards out whenever that happens.
This is what I call the Tower of Babel problem. For those of you unfamiliar with the Tower of Babel story, here is the cliff-notes version:
After the Great Flood, all the peoples of Earth shared a single language. They came upon the land of Shinar and decided to build a city with a tower so high it would reach the heavens. The purpose of the tower was to keep everyone from being “scattered upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis: 11:4). God decided to confound the builders by giving everyone different languages. Unable to communicate, the tower was abandoned and the city was forever known as Babel.
People laugh when I say my favorite part of coaching is giving the kids back to the parents at the end of the day. As much as I love coaching lacrosse, kids can be flat-out exasperating since they rarely do exactly what you want them to do. I’ve had first and second grade players sit down and pitch a fit when I tell them to try a different dodge. I even had one kid endlessly repeat his favorite word, “no,” for an entire practice. Then I’ve had kids who latch on to what I say and perform a move flawlessly. Often, players are deemed coachable or a head-case based on his reactions during practices and games, but I take exception to that flawed idea!
I firmly believe that youth players become coachable if a coach is patient and willing to use a few new coaching tools.
Tool # 1 – You Do Not Know Everything
- Less of a tool and more of a state of mind. This concept is critical at the youth level. I’ve coached spring and fall ball teams for ten years and I pick up new coaching methods from brand new coaches all the time! Keep your eyes open and watch your fellow coaches for better techniques.
Tool # 2 – The Bench is Useful
- I do not believe in punishment running until the JV level. Agree of disagree with that, but I see no reason to make a second grader run laps because he is acting like a second grader. Instead, I put an end to their fun time. Whenever a player challenges me or misbehaves everybody has to leave their sticks on the ground and sit on the bench for five minutes. Then I walk over and say, “Does everyone want to keep sitting on the bench?” The reply is a very loud “NO!”
Tool #3 – Establish a Buddy Coach
- If you are the head coach with assistants make one of them the team “buddy coach.” At the first practice introduce the buddy coach and tell all your players that anyone who has a problem with you can tell the buddy coach. If a player comes up and argues with you about something, stop them and remind them to tell the buddy coach. This accomplishes two things. One, you get to keep coaching the rest of the team. Two, the buddy coach can express the kid’s problems to you much better than the kid can. Typically, the buddy coach is the youngest coach, but it can be any coach who doesn’t mind hearing a few complaints here and there.
Tool #4 – Stop Yelling and Get Quiet
- When a friend yells at you what is your reaction? My reaction is to make my voice a few decibles higher than my friend’s. The same concept applies to kids. Problem is, they have really young lungs and can out shout the best of us. The most effective coaches only yell to get everyone’s attention, then they quickly revert to their inside voices. When I started coaching I yelled constantly, and I still do, but I’ve learned to pick and choose when to yell. Making my loud and quiet voices compliment one another.
- Sounding out your words and enunciating gets your point across far more than yelling. Consider your high school spanish class. Did the teacher demand you yell out “COMO SE YAMA?” No, they asked to you sound out the phrase slowly and deliberately. This applies directly to coaching. I find it far more effective to huddle a team up and precisely state what I want in a calm, level voice. Every player’s eyes and ears are on me because they don’t want to miss their instructions. Contrast that huddle with the yelling coach whose head is about to pop off. That coach’s players are averting their eyes and praying that the verbal whipping ends quickly so they can go play.
Tool #5 – Create a Team Cry
- When I was a high school captain I started the War Cry midway through the season. Whenever our team was down, or did something really awesome I screamed out “Let me hear your war cry!” The whole team would yell, hoot, and holler until the next whistle. Many years later, I watched a youth coach yell out “Ready!” Every player on the field responded, “Focus!”
- Having a Team Cry bonds players together, especially if it is catchy and repeatable. Plus you can use it to get everyone’s attention in the huddle. Here are a few fun cries I’ve heard:
- Listen! – Up!
- Ears! – Open!
- Eyes! – On You!
- This is! – Sparta!
- Instructions! – Boom!
- Loot! – Argg!
- Break! – Down!
Tool #6 – Try This, Not That
- Every year I see a coach screaming at one kid, “what in the world are you doing? I told you to do this, not that!” This is ineffective because the kid will do one of two things. Either he decides to screw the coach and do things his way, which does not help your game plan. Or, he tightens up and cannot make a play to save his life. Instead of yelling at a player to do something, pull him off the field at the first opportunity.
- When you and him have had a moment to calm down go chat with the player and ask him why he tried that move, dodge, check, shot, etc. Let the player explain why he did what he did, then go: “well, did your way work?” The player will shrug his shoulders and say, “not really.” Then say, “I don’t mind innovation, and your move might work, but only if you do so-and-so. Now I want to put you it, but you are going to have to show me that you can play with your teammates. If you do that I’ll give you the green light to try that move out in another game. Sound fair?” Almost every time, the kid says yes.
Try out one or all of these tools this Fall Season. Commit to making your players coachable instead of writing off the ones that don’t listen. If you apply these tools even the most difficult player will start listening to what you have to say.
I’ll leave you with one of the greatest movie scenes in history from Cool Hand Luke, please don’t be like the warden. If there is a failure to communicate, it falls at the coach’s feet to fix it.
Featured Image Credit – www.ibiblio.org