With league championship names such as “Super Bowl” and “World Series,” it is easy to understand why youth coaches get caught up in the allure of winning championships. As a youth coach, if your main goal is to win a championship, you are missing a wonderful opportunity to improve the lives of the athletes you coach. Even if you are able to win a league, region, state, or national championship, if that is the team’s only focus, the athletes will miss one heck of a journey along the way.
Life is a competition, start now!
As anyone who has a job in a competitive line of work knows, much of life is a competition. You have to compete with many others for that first job, a promotion, or to become vice-president. Those starting small businesses have to compete for start-up costs and for a niche in the market. Why not teach athletes these competition skills at a young age (12 years and older)? It is possible to teach competition without having the focus being to win a championship. Create small competitions in practice as often as you can (see Cornerstone’s blog post on creating challenges in practice for more ideas https://www.cornerstonecoachingacademy.com/creating-challenges-for-practice/).
Emphasize healthy competition for the sake of competing, and not necessarily to win anything tangible. Whenever possible remove extrinsic rewards from tactical games in practice so athletes begin to see the value in competing against others (Cornerstone’s post on using tactical games in practice https://www.cornerstonecoachingacademy.com/using-tactical-games-in-baseball-practice/). Your athlete's will begin to see the benefit of competing against others and will begin to enjoy the process of competition regardless of the outcome.
Use failure appropriately
If the entire season is set up to win the championship, anything less than that can be viewed as a failure when, in fact, many successes can come from failures. Since much of life is a competition, it is vital for young athletes to learn how to deal with failure. It may take several interviews to get that first job, you may be passed over for a promotion, and you may never become vice-president. Just because success doesn’t happen immediately doesn’t mean that it won’t. In our instant gratification society, it is difficult for your people to understand that not succeeding right away does not make one a failure. Youth coaches can instill this value of working through failure in their athletes by framing it as a chance for improvement. Coaches should model this behavior by looking for things to improve after failure, and creating “recipes for success” for their teams, their athletes, and themselves. Even if a team comes up short of its goal of winning a championship, each individual player on the team can become a better person by striving to improve and learning to deal with failure appropriately.
Keep in mind what is important to the players and their families
Youth and high school athletics are for the athletes, not the coaches. As you are developing a season plan, remember that players are there to have fun, get better, and have a positive experience. Most parents enroll their kids in youth and high school athletics for similar reasons, but safety is also at the forefront of parent's minds. If you truly believe in the benefit of youth sports as a builder of character, one of your main goals should be to keep the players coming back year after year. In order to do that, coaches should focus on giving their players as positive of an experience as they can, regardless of final record. Small things such as giving your athletes positive but honest feedback, creating a positive team environment, and creating fun interesting practices for your athletes every day can make a huge difference in an athlete's perception of their experience.
Over the past few years, I have had many current and former youth and high school coaches report to me that their biggest regret as a coach was that they focused on winning too much. There is much more that coaching youth sports than just simply winning. Youth coaches must look out for the safety of their players while ensuring that they have fun, improve as players, and develop as people. Unfortunately, they are given very little, if any training. Luckily Cornerstone has a program designed specifically for youth coaches www.cornerstonecoachingacademy.com/silver-certification.