Tips for Coaching

Youth Sports


The Youth Sports Coach
Ken Kaiserman

Coaching youth sports is a challenge. Most of our kids are really
happy to have us step up to the plate and coach and, despite the
time we give up, most parents find the experience equally
rewarding. However, there are some major things that every coach
needs to do and understand before they start the season: 1) coach
with the proper attitude; 2) coach with the proper fundamentals;
and, 3) learn and teach the difference between the "Dad Hat" and
the "Coach Hat".

Coaching the Right Attitude:

We all love our kids and, let’s face it; we also love playing
sports with our kids. For me, it’s the way that I spend most of
my free time and it is right up there as one of my favorite
things to do. That being said, I also need to realize that
statistically, none of the kids that I coach will ever play
professional sports, nearly all of them will not play sports in
college, and many of them will not even play varsity sports in
high school. So, what does this mean for us as a coach? We need
to emphasize all the other aspects of sports and the life lessons
that make us love playing the game. Mostly, we need to make the
experience fun!

In 1988, Robert Fulghum wrote the book “All I Really Need to Know
I learned in Kindergarten”. I’ve often told people that you can
learn everything you need to know by playing sports – especially
youth sports. Many of the same lessons apply, but on an even
bigger scale where kids learn success and failure, wining and
losing, sportsmanship and teamwork, and how to respond in many
pressure situations. None of these are easy lessons. Winning with
grace is just as hard to teach as losing with dignity. How can
you do this and make sure that everybody has a great season?
That’s the trick.

Every team you ever coach, especially teams with younger kids,
will be split between kids that are talented and kids that are
not. The goal that you have as a coach is to make sure that every
one of those kids has a great experience and wants to play again
next year. I take the most pride in the job I did as a coach when
the worst kid on the team loves the sport and keeps playing year
after year. The way that I do this is to emphasize things other
than on field performance – I try to stress effort, trying your
best and hustle.

There are several practical things that you can do to emphasize
these “other” characteristics. In basketball, for example,
instead of emphasizing and keeping stats for scoring, keep stats
on hustle, picks set, good defense, rebounds, filling a lane, or
just being in the right position. After every game, point out
something positive that every kid did during the game. Award a
point for each time a kid does something you emphasize and give
stars or sew on patches when points are accumulated. You’ll see
that these kids will do anything to get a star on their uniform,
even pay attention in practice!

Coaching the Right Fundamentals:

Kids of any age can learn to do things properly. They may not
have the motor skills developed yet, but they can at least try to
do it right. One of my favorite misconceptions is that “practice
makes perfect”. That’s totally wrong; practice doesn’t make
perfect, practice makes PERMANENT. What I try to teach is:
“Perfect Practice Makes Permanently Perfect”. That’s a pretty big

Of course, this really changes things for a youth coach because
we need to teach the correct fundamentals or we’ll simply be
reinforcing the bad habits kids develop. The hardest thing to do
as a coach is to try and correct a flaw that a kid has developed
over years of “practice”. This is even harder when the kid is
good, because correcting the fundamental flaw generally means
that getting worse before getting better. That means the kid is
going to be reluctant to try this “new” way and may not stick it
out. In the long run, the difference could be huge. While we’ve
already acknowledged that that we’re not developing professional
athletes, there is no reason to limit the ceiling on how well
each child may develop. Coach’s Corner, Continued

The solution is simple: we need to learn the right fundamentals
before we start coaching. It’s a responsibility that we accept
when we volunteer to coach. Now, up front, I want to make sure to
state that most of us think we know much more about sports than
we really do. We think that because we played and we were pretty
good that we clearly know how to teach a kid to play baseball or
basketball. That’s simply not true. Much of what we learned was
wrong. We may also not know the right way to communicate what we
know to kids. Or, we may not know anything about the sport if
we’re stepping in and coaching soccer or another sport that
wasn’t “big” when we were young.

Fortunately, there is help. Many leagues do a good job teaching
their coaches the fundamentals of the game. Some leagues even
offer mandatory coaching clinics for their coaches. These are
really good starts, but generally not enough – especially as the
kids you coach get older and better. Before every season that I
coach, I’ll watch several instructional tapes to review the
fundamentals and also learn new material. I re-watch tapes, often
with my kids that we’ve seen before and buy a couple of new ones
to add some wrinkles. Of course, at, we do offer
1,000’s of instructional books and videos, but the point of this
section is to simply say to use whatever method you choose to
make sure that you teach correct fundamentals. Every kid, even
young kids, can learn with good coaching and remember: “Practice
makes Permanent”.

The “Dad Hat” and the “Coach Hat”:

There is a huge difference between being a “Dad” and being a
“Coach”. Each has different responsibilities and relationships
with the kids. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of overlap
between the two roles. I literally have two hats: one says “Dad”
and the other says “Coach”. Over the years, my kids and I have
learned to separate the two so I don’t wear the hats too often,
but it does make the distinction more literal. Coaching your own
children is one of the real challenges of youth sports because
sometimes, you child wants or expects to have a dad when you’re
the team’s coach. If you can separate these roles, and both of
your expectations, you and your child will have a much better
youth sports experience.

Copywright ©2005
Ken Kaiserman is the president of, a leading youth
sports website featuring games, sports news, sports camp and
league directories, community features, and the Kids Stuff
Superstore with over 150,000 products.

Ken coaches youth football, basketball and baseball. He also
serves on the local little league board of directors as well as
the Park Advisory Board.

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