True Leadership in Youth Sports

“A common mistake among those who work in sport is spending a disproportional amount of time on “x’s and o’s” as compared to time spent learning about people.” – Coach Mike Krzyzewski

Coach Krzyzewski

Coach Krzyzewski

There are few coaches in any sport that coach like Mike Krzyzewski. He is an person who knows how to turn a group of players into a team and he does it with very simple principles. No matter how often he works with his players on the “x’s and o’s” all of his coaching boils down to one word: trust.

This is an invaluable lesson for youth coaches. There are coaches at the youth level who spend an excessive amount of time on explaining plays, creating zone defenses, and developing man-up packages. Then there are coaches who develop basic stick skills, make every player learn their teammates’ names, and cultivate a desire for passing to the open man. Guess which one of these coaches is more successful in creating a winning team?

I once saw a U11 coach holding a white board while his team was arraigned in a semi-circle around him. He was explaining how the players were going to run a zone defense. I am certain that his explanation was spot on but none of his players would know that. They were too busy looking around at all the other teams running drills and practicing. I kept an eye on the little group and eventually one of the kids actually laid down and closed his eyes! While the coach had good intentions he was focusing on the “x’s and o’s” instead of his players.

There is one U13 coach who might be the most effective youth coach I have ever seen. A former Ranger, he creates discipline at the very first team meeting. Every time he says “ready,” the players snap their eyes to him and yell “focus!” It is quite a site to watch a bunch of youth players respond to their coach so well with such a simple technique. I have used this technique with almost every youth team that I work with and I confess I stole another.

For many coaches substitutions are a lesson in controlled chaos. I learned an excellent method from the U13 coach above that I cannot believe I never thought of doing myself. The coach brings three colored cones to each game. Red, Green, and Yellow. His starters are on the Red cone, his second line on the Green cone, and his third line on the Yellow cone. When he is ready to sub he yells out a color and all of the players on that cone run onto the field. All of the players on the field run off and stand behind their cone. The first time I saw this in action my mouth actually dropped. It was so simple but it taught players how to wait for their line to be called on a substitution.

The first coach had an okay team that season but the second coach made it deep into the playoffs with his team. I could care less about what team wins and loses a youth league championship, but winning teams showcase effective coaching techniques. Winning youth teams are ones where every player knows every other player’s name. These teams have players who know the basics of the game cold, properly pass the ball, and break down on defense. More than anything else, winning teams listen to their coach when they are told to.

Coach Pietramala

Coach Pietramala

The moral of this story is do not focus on the “x’s and o’s” of lacrosse. Focus on establishing discipline with your team early on. Learn your players’ names and make them learn each others. Teach the basics because you can leave the zone defenses to Coach Pietramala.

Since the season is almost upon us I want every youth coach to remember this final Coach K quote, “I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”

Be a leader first. Be a lacrosse coach second and you will see your team be successful no matter what your record is.


About Lou Corsetti

Gordon is a born lacrosse official who played for ten years before realizing he'd much rather ref the game than play it. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia and officiates youth, high school, and collegiate men's lacrosse games all over the southeast. His passion is educating and training officials, coaches, players, parents and all other fans on the rules of lacrosse, it's history, and how best to develop lacrosse in new areas.

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