Coaches, are you having trouble with certain players? You know the ones – the kids that pick flowers in the outfield, struggle with drills, always seem to be a step behind the other players. For some kids, athletics come easily, but others have a harder struggle.
Sure, you can ignore these players or keep them on the bench, but that’s not what coaching is really about, is it? From elementary to high school, kids are still developing their social skills and their confidence, and as a coach, you’re also their teacher. Don’t turn your back on a problem child, use these techniques to help bring out the best in your players!
1. Stay Positive
Lots of children have fear and anxiety, and playing a sport can bring on that stage fright as easily as a school play can. Their parents and peers are watching, their team is relying on them, there’s the potential for injury . . . it’s a lot of pressure.
Teach them to use positive self-talk while playing so instead of kicking themselves for making a mistake, they remember what’s important – that they’re trying and learning. This goes for you – the coach – as well. How do you talk to your players? Be mindful that the phrases you use are constructive and positive. Things like “what are you doing?” and “come on, you’re killing me!” can have negative repercussions on the entire team. Keep a firm stance on anti-bullying, and use positive reinforcement for training.
2. Efficiency Over Perfection
Teach your players that mistakes are a natural part of sports, they’re going to happen. There are going to be moments when someone is wide open, and they still miss. No one is perfect, so instead of focusing on the mistake, focus on the recovery and reward players for successful rebounds. So they missed a catch, did they hustle? Work to reclaim the ball? Give praise for a good recovery because mistakes are unavoidable, but how we react to them is in our control. Let your players know that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as they don’t give up and don’t get down on themselves.
3. Keep it Fun
Did you know that 70% of athletes quit sports by age 13? There are many factors for this, but the biggest is that kids claimed it simply wasn’t fun anymore. Why is that? Why do teenagers prefer video games over physical activity? It’s not because of laziness, it’s that with video games, there’s no one looking over your shoulder, no one shouting at you to do better, or run drills. No one’s judging. Teens are already going through so much pressure and change in school and with their own bodies, they don’t need more stress. Sports should be an escape – not another thing to worry about.
So, how do you keep sports fun? Positive reinforcement is key. Avoid punishment during drills such as making them run sprints if they miss a hit. Turn exercises into noncompetitive games, and take breaks from practice once in awhile to do fun things (go to the playground, take a nature hike, or play some pickleball. Switch things up!) Also, keep it social. Pick a practice date to bring some snacks and just let everyone chill and socialize. Teenagers enjoy spending time with friends, and if you’re taking up all their free time with practices, they’re far more likely to skip or quit entirely.
4. Utilize Their Strengths
Everyone has a skill they can bring to the team. There’s no such thing as a useless player, and as the coach, it’s your job to figure out how to best utilize everyone. A player doesn’t have to excel at the basics to contribute to the team. Sometimes little things like being able to pay attention are just as important.
You also don’t have to give up on a certain position. If someone is having trouble with serving the volleyball or catching a baseball, pair them up with another player, and have them work on it for as long as necessary. You are the coach after all – figure out what’s holding them back and work with them to improve. Usually, it’s a simple misuse of technique or a matter of repetition (practice does make perfect).
5. What Do They Want?
If you find that a player just isn’t happy or doesn’t care, sometimes the best thing to do is just let it go. That’s not to say give up on them. Rather think of an alternative they might enjoy better. Ask what the player likes and dislikes about the game, and then bring it up to the parents. “So-and-so seems to prefer playing independently. They might enjoy track/tennis/swimming more than team-based sports.” Let them know that it’s okay to pursue other interests.