Jeff Farris
It's natural to dream of shooting the game winning basket or scoring the go ahead goal or touchdown.  However, as team skills increase, it becomes progressively harder for one player to be the scoring hero.  That's when smarter players start using their teammates to help them score goals and win games. A timely pass, throw or block are effective ways to score points in a game.  Though not scoring directly, players who facilitate these goals are guiding their play and, in fact, asking their teammates to finish off their own efforts.  It actually takes more player skills to contribute to team wins in this fashion than it does to contribute unassisted. In hockey, player statistics are kept that record individual goals and assists with goals.  Wayne Gretzky, recognized as one of the best hockey players ever, finished his career with over twice as many assists (2,223) as goals (1,016).  Though he had the skills to score by himself, he more often used his teammates to get the job done.
Jeff Farris
Youth coaches sometimes joke that the ideal youth team is a team of orphans.  Though this approach is one solution to problem parents, there are other more practical solutions that can work equally well.  One of the best is regular communication with parents. In the absence of coaching guidance, parents will form and communicate their own opinions of the status of the team and the steps necessary for improvement.  Some parents may be objective and knowledgeable about the sport, but if they don't speak up, then the overall team opinion may be shaped by others.  For coaches, these parent-to-parent and parent-to-player communications can become distracting to their efforts to make team improvements. Coaches should consider short and regular meetings with all parents to help shape these opinions and give parents better insight into what to watch for in games and practices.  In these meetings coaches might cover:
  • Recent team performance giving parents insight into the progress the team is or is not making in various areas.
  • Approaches taken in practices that are attempting to shape game performance.
  • Reemphasis of team goals and objectives.
  • Realistic guidance concerning upcoming game and practice performance.
  • Positive comments concerning every player.  Mentioning only a few players may raise more parent concerns.
Parents help judge the success of coaches, teams and seasons.  In the absence of information, the judgments they give will vary greatly based on their own experiences.  With information, parents gain better appreciation for the challenges coaches face.
Jeff Farris
In a car, a sudden swerve or overcorrection can sometimes lead to an even greater risk of a serious accident.  These overcorrections are caused by a driver's mistaken sense of time and force.  Either a driver reacted too quickly or with too much force.  In youth sports, overcorrections are likely to occur after a game or a practice.  Parents, sensing an emergency with their child's game, apply too much force in too little time and turn a problem into a potential accident. Before solving emergencies, parents first need to diagnose, analyze and then formulate a plan of action.  Problem areas parents should consider include:
  • Were there external distractions such as problems at school or with friends or siblings?
  • Were there physical difficulties such as an illness, lack of proper nutrition or insufficient rest?
  • Is there a diminished lack of interest in the sport caused by burnout or a lack of time for other activities?
  • Is physical conditioning in areas such as stamina or strength adequate for playing an entire game?
  • Does a lack of fundamental skills hinder more advanced play?
  • Is there a good understanding of strategy and positioning so that a young player knows how to react in specific situations?
  • Is the child playing at the right level of competition?  Playing with kids who are much more or much less talented can be demotivating and slow improvement.
All of the above problems can look like a lack of "hustle" from a parent's perspective on the sidelines.  If it is not clear what the problem is, parents should have a positive conversation with their child or with the coach to better identify the problem and the corrective actions necessary.  Sports is a learned activity and requires time to master.  However, the age of the player and the length of time between events gives parents plenty of opportunity to take the right actions to correct sports emergencies.
Jeff Farris
If players play long enough they are going to lose their share of games and sometimes lose badly.  Handling these losses is actually a more important lesson than learning to handle wins.  Players' reactions to a loss have a huge impact on long term success. As painful as a loss can be, after a loss players should:
  • Focus on their own contribution to the effort and the things they can improve.
  • Not blame teammates.  Blaming teammates is a sure way to create team dissension which can poison the remainder of a season.
  • Learn from the other team.  Steal their best ideas and approaches.
  • Lose with class.  Sportsmanship is easy after a win, but more accurately reflects the person after a loss.
  • Not blame coaches or officials.  Blaming those in authority implies a lack of power on the part of the players.  Yet, coaches and officials weren't the ones playing the game.
  • Ask what they can do to support the team.  The more players focus on themselves and the less they focus on the team, the more likely problems will get worse and not better.
  • Ask what they can do to support lesser skilled players.  By definition, half the players on every team are less talented than the other half.  Those players with better skills have a great incentive to see those with lesser skills improve.
  • Rally teammates who take the loss harder.  On certain teams, positions such as goalie or defensemen may feel they have more responsibility for a loss.  Yet every game is a combination of preventing points and getting points.  If teams prevent but don't get, they lose just as surely as the reverse.
Losing a game is a chance for players to work on the things they can control while also trying to positively influence the things they do not control.  A positive attitude directed toward each gives a player the best chance of turning a loss into a future win.
Jeff Farris
A typical parent interaction with a coach after a game or practice usually goes something like this:
  • Great win!
  • You really worked them!
  • You annihilated them!
  • Your star player is incredible!
  • They really got their exercise today!
  • Tough loss!
  • We'll get them next time!
If these are the only comments coaches hear, then over time it is easy to understand why coaches come to believe that it is all about having tough practices and winning.  However, if coaches act to these comments, they are likely to become the object of parent and player frustration. Many parent don't always know what to say to coaches.  Their inexperience with the sport, shyness or fear of causing problems for their child can lead them to make only the most basic and obvious statements.  More heartfelt comments such as:
  • My child is really enjoying his season.
  • My child is bonding with his teammates.
  • I really appreciate the sportsmanship my child is learning.
  • My child has become a better leader in his classroom based on your coaching.
  • Thank you.
are seldom made.  Although they are often parents themselves, coaches may have a difficult time judging other parents' desires from hallway or field conversations.  When in doubt, coaches need to seek out parents for more lengthy and heartfelt feedback.
Jeff Farris
As much as coaches want to help individual players, their overall responsibility is to the team.  Youth coaches often seek compromises that try to reconcile player desires with team needs.  However, when there are conflicts, most coaches have to put team needs above player desires.  This can be as simple as rotating players to allow equal playing time over a player's desire to play the entire game.  Sometimes these conflicts can be more complex.  Areas that often trigger conflict are:
  • Playing time
  • Position assignments
  • Recognitions and reprimands
  • Teammate assignments
These issues always have two perspectives - from that of the player (or parent) and from that of the team.  The older the players, the more likely it is the coach only focuses on team needs.  Parents don't always like the decisions that coaches make but parents have to understand the different perspectives that motivate these decisions.
Jeff Farris
Everyone would like to be the fastest or strongest player on the team.  However, there can only be one "fastest" and one "strongest" player.  For teams, this is actually a good thing because teams need different skills to be successful.  There are many areas in which players can excel and contribute to a team's efforts.  Players can aspire to be the player who is the:
  • Best at playing a position
  • Leader in team spirit and attitude
  • Hardest working
  • Most helpful and encouraging to other players
  • Least selfish in scoring situations
  • Best at a particular skill
  • Most knowledgeable about game situations
  • Most consistent from game to game
  • Best at defensive play
  • Best at scrambling for goals or points
These are just a few of the many different needs that teams have.  Teams need players to fill a variety of  roles in order to win games.  Just because a player isn't the fastest or strongest player on the team, doesn't mean that a player won't have plenty of opportunity to become one of the most valuable.
Jeff Farris
Good performance starts with good goals.  Lou Holtz, one the of nation's most successful college football coaches, once said that "Of all my experiences in managing people, the power of goal setting is the most incredible."  He carried with him a book identifying personal, player and team goals and used these to motivate himself and his team. In Dr. Kenneth Blanchard's book, the One Minute Manager, he identifies three steps toward getting the most out of a group of people.  While written for a business audience, its lessons also apply to sports teams.  The book's three recommendations are:
  1. One Minute Goals - Goals are agreements between the coach and the individual players or the coach and the team on the desired accomplishments.  Three to five goals should be the limit with a good understanding of current and expected performance.
  2. One Minute Praisings - Immediate and specific positive feedback helps players know when they are doing something right and encourages them to keep doing it.
  3. One Minute Reprimands - If goals aren't being met, then players need quick corrections followed by a reaffirmation of the player's value and potential.
Goal setting works at any age level although the goals and the methods of communication may be very different.  Clear goals keep everyone focused and reviewing their progress.  If players can know they are improving, then they will continue working to accomplish their goals.
Jeff Farris
Just like children bring home homework that is beyond what a parent can help with, young athletes often progress beyond the abilities of a parent. If the problem is not addressed, young players' frustration at their own lack of progress may increase until the solution is to quit sports altogether. Fortunately, like in school, there are a variety of experts to help with almost every aspect of physical, skill and strategy development. Though parents may not be able to help directly, parents still have a large role to play in selecting and overseeing these experts. Whether a player is 5 or even 15 years old, parents should:
  1. Ask if their child wants help. Kids will apply themselves only if they are motivated to learn. Forcing instruction on a child with limited interest will have little benefit.
  2. Locate instructors who like instructing. Not all instructors have the same passion for teaching the same subject over and over. Only instructors who enjoy seeing another's progress can teach enthusiastically.
  3. Watch to determine if the instruction is organized. Spending time with a student is not the same as instructing. Parents should notice how the practice is organized and if the practice builds on previous lessons.
  4. Remain open to all areas of instruction. Sometimes, a problem is caused by a breakdown in a more fundamental area and won't improve until the fundamental issue is resolved.
  5. Expect results over time. One lesson is not going to make a major impact on a child's performance. If a child wants and enjoys the instruction and the instructor is enthusiastic and organized, then lessons will help over time though it may be weeks or months before results can be observed.
It is never too early or too late to consider expert help. Lessons, early on, can provide a level of confidence that lasts over a long period. In addition to helping the player, private instruction can also give parents valuable one-on-one feedback about their child's progress and insights into drills and activities that would be helpful at home. Teaching, whether in school or in sports, works best when parents respect the role of the educator but stay involved with monitoring progress and results.