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Don't underestimate the importance of the youth sport coach

by Rainer Martens

The days of taking just any "warm bodies" and letting them coach the youth of our nation are rapidly disappearing. Responsible youth sport directors can no longer place the health and well-being of youth in the hands of well-intentioned volunteers who are not prepared for the important position of coach.

The purpose of this chapter is to help you effectively manage your coaches, who are vital resources for achieving your program objectives. Youth sport directors who indiscriminately recruit adult volunteers, hand them the equipment bag, and wish them good luck are irresponsible. Directors who follow this approach are likely to see inconsistency in the quality of coaching, as well as high turnover of dissatisfied coaches.

Successful adults-the type of volunteers you want-do not like to fail. Without training and support, coaches are more likely to fail and have problems with parents, athletes, and fellow coaches, such as the following:

• More injuries to participants (because coaches lack training to prevent injuries)

• More lawsuits (because of poor management)

• Recurring criticism from parents and fellow directors


In this chapter you will learn how to

• recruit the best talent pool of potential coaches,

• select people who will coach to achieve your program objectives,

• offer a quality education program to your volunteer coaches,

• supervise and evaluate your coaches, and

• recognize and reward your coaches for their contributions.

Before we look at these goals, let’s reflect on the importance of the coach.


Importance of the Coach

Experienced youth sport directors know that the most important element of a successful youth sport program is quality coaching. Many other elements are necessary and important, but the coach makes or breaks the program.

The value of sport for each child in your program depends so much on the values of that child’s coach. The coach in our society is a powerful, influential role model to many young people who place great importance on playing sports. The coach controls access to these young people’s opportunities to play and can help or hinder their potential to play well. Often the coach is the first significant adult in the child’s life besides his parents. The importance of the coach is captured eloquently in the poem on the previous page.

Our society subscribes to several myths that have impeded our progress in providing better volunteer coaches. For example:

"If you’ve played the sport, you can coach it."

Teaching sport skills requires knowledge above and beyond having played the sport. And a coach must know not only the techniques and tactics of the sport, but also how the bodies and minds of young people work.

"The better you played the sport, the more qualified you are to coach."

A prevailing myth is that if you were skilled as a player and had a winning record, you are more qualified to coach. There is no evidence to corroborate this belief. The qualifications for being a good coach are simply not the same as the qualifications for being a good athlete.

"The best coaches are needed at the highest level of sport."

Each level of sport places different demands on coaches, and all levels of sport require competent coaches. The case can certainly be made that coaching children in their formative years is as challenging as coaching at other levels, if not more so.

"A successful coach is a winning coach."

Our society continues to define success as synonymous with winning. This belief was once restricted to high school, college, and professional sports, but today it is prevalent in children’s sports as well. One of the great challenges for any youth sport director is to redefine what a successful coach is for those adults who occupy this important position in your program.

A successful coach is foremost a person who helps children become better human beings-physically, psychologically, socially-and does so while striving for victory within an environment of fun and mutual respect. Stated more simply, a successful coach places Athletes First, Winning Second. This is the new definition of a successful coach. Winning is a by-product of successful coaching. Coaches who are successful in helping athletes develop physically, psychologically, and socially, who maintain an environment of fun and respect, are much more likely to win than coaches who emphasize winning.

"Volunteer coaches can’t be fired."

Just one bad coach can really hurt the integrity of your program-to say nothing of the potential damage done to the children being coached by this person. So don’t feel that your hands are tied when it comes to "releasing" a coach who isn’t doing the job. Allowing a coach who is guilty of a major violation (abuse of drugs or alcohol, or physical or psychological abuse) to continue coaching in your program is a breach of your responsibility. Have a written policy and procedure regarding the firing of coaches that is endorsed and supported by your organization and follow these procedures in the event of a dismissal.

On the other hand, if you’re having a minor problem with one of your coaches-for example, a lack of technical ability or motivation-firing the coach is probably not the best solution. Instead, consider moving this volunteer to a position for which he or she is better suited, such as official scorekeeper or groundskeeper.

In Praise of Coaches

The United States has one of the most extensive amateur sports programs in the world. Most of these programs are possible only because adults volunteer to become coaches and officials. If communities relied entirely on paid professionals to coach, millions of young people would not get to play because the programs would be too expensive. In our quest to improve the quality of children’s sports programs we should not forget the generosity of these adult volunteers.

As the saying goes, a few bad apples can spoil the barrel. It takes only a few bad coaches, and the attention that they attract, to defile the image of a thousand good coaches. It does not nullify, of course, the good work of those coaches, but it certainly taints their image. This is unfortunate, for bad coaches likely make it harder for youth sport directors to attract capable adults into coaching. How many good coaches quit because they refuse to hassle with the one "bad apple"?

The vast majority of coaches deserve the accolades of the community. We read and hear so much criticism of coaches that we are led to believe that the bad coaches dominate the profession. But this is not so. Most coaches have the well-being of athletes as their primary interest. Certainly coaches make mistakes-just as parents and teachers make mistakes. And sometimes the coach does the right thing, and the kids are at fault. The intent and effort of most coaches are positive. What is needed is a means for culling out the bad apples and helping the coaches with good intentions do the best coaching they possibly can. That is the purpose of this chapter.

Coaching Director

In the remainder of this chapter we will refer to the coaching director of your youth sport program. In small programs this may be your responsibility as the youth sport director, but you may want to consider appointing a volunteer as coaching director to help you out. In larger programs you may have the resources to pay a full- or part-time person to serve as the coaching director. The duties of the coaching director will be clarified in the sections to follow.

In addition, consider forming a coaching committee to help you carry out the important responsibilities of managing your coaches. This committee of volunteers is likely to comprise three to six people who are experienced coaches, professionals trained in physical education or sport administration, or highly experienced sports officials. Your committee will help you recruit, select, educate, supervise, evaluate, and recognize your coaches, all of which will make your job more manageable and increase volunteer participation in your program.

Recruiting Coaches

Recruiting volunteer coaches is a challenge for many youth sport directors, but current statistics indicate that there are more willing volunteers out there than ever before. The challenge is getting these volunteers to commit to your program. An increasing number of organizations are requesting volunteers, so you need an effective plan to attract and keep good ones.

A survey of youth sport programs revealed that better programs make the recruitment of coaches a systematic, year-long effort. To do this you need a plan that identifies the number of coaches you will need for each sport in your program, the activities you will initiate to recruit coaches, the time of year that you will initiate each recruiting activity, and the cost associated with each.

In this section you’ll learn how to develop such a plan. The first step is to determine what your needs are.

Needs Assessment

Form 2.1 on page 62 will help you determine your needs for a particular sport for up to five leagues. We have completed form 2.1 in form 2.2 (see page 63) as an example for you to follow.

Complete form 2.1 now to become familiar with it, estimating your coaching needs as best you can. Then, later, complete this form again after carefully consulting your records.

You will complete one form for each sport you supervise and later consolidate this information into a summary form. If you have more than five leagues in one sport, then simply complete two or more forms and add up the totals.

If you administer a one-sport program, then form 2.1 provides you the information needed. If you administer a multiple-sport program, you will need to complete form 2.1 for each sport. After doing so, you’ll want to summarize your coaching needs for all sports on form 2.3 (see page 64).

Now you are ready to determine the qualifications required to coach at each level within each sport. As you examine your coaching needs, consider the following to help you identify the qualifications coaches will need.

• The extent of knowledge required about the sport to coach children safely. For example, the requirements to coach basketball or soccer safely are quite different from those to safely coach swimming or gymnastics.

• The age range of the participants. You may want coaches to have more experience in competitive sports when coaching older participants.

• The gender of the participants. You will need to consider whether the coach’s gender will influence his ability to supervise the participants.

Next, you need to prepare a job description for each type of coach you need. Usually this includes a job description for head coaches and assistant coaches in each sport.

Job Descriptions

Just as in business or government, it’s essential to have a detailed description of the requisite qualifications and duties for the position of coach. We’ve outlined the elements of a job description and provided a sample job description for a head coach in the next section. Modify these job descriptions to meet your needs.


This is an excerpt from Directing Youth Sport Programs.

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The above excerpt is from:

Directing Youth Sports Programs

Directing Youth Sports Programs

Directing Youth Sports Programs

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