As I turn the page on my first year as a youth sports coach, I’ve started to reflect on what I learned from this experience, which existing rules I want to keep and what new ones I should add to my repertoire.
I learned a lot this year, about myself and about being a coach. About myself in the form of the time commitment, personal dedication, and life balancing it takes to meet the responsibilities I have to my team and the hockey organization that entrusted me with these kids. I know I will always continue to learn more about coaching for as long as I coach, but I have to imagine this first year will go down as one of the more influential ones.
I look back on the way I was with the kids in the beginning by trying to answer every single one of their questions and address every single one of their concerns, to the way I was at the end where my expectations of them were that they did very little besides listen to myself and the other coaches and then apply what we said to the ice. From the way I would remind them that cutting each other in line during drills wasn’t how we did things, to eventually bumping such offenders immediately to the back of the line if they pulled such a stunt. From encouraging them to always have fun first, to encouraging them to always have fun first.
I developed as much as the kids did this year and the following are what I currently consider my top 3 rules as a coach.
1. Have fun with your teammates
If this rule is ever unseated from my number 1 spot please tell me to stop coaching. If you play or coach youth sports and you or your kids aren’t having fun, then it’s time to seriously reconsider what you are doing. Stay with me here as I break this complicated equation down: kids + playing a game = fun. Still with me? I simply won’t accept any argument that tries to tell me otherwise. After that it’s about the kids having fun with their teammates. In youth sports their teammates are often classmates and friends. As much as coaches are supposed to teach kids about the game and the proper way to play it, we are also here to foster the social bonds with their peers and to teach them how these relationships should coexist in a high-energy, competitive environment. One of the greatest joys for me this year as a hockey coach was when I would watch the team skate from the bench to their goalie after EVERY game and congratulate him, big smiles on all their faces, win or lose.
2. Respect the game and your opponent
Right now this aspect of sports is very much in the forefront of my mind as I see too much focus on oneself over the game, and the resulting disrespect for the opponent that comes from that. Here is one of the more powerful articles I’ve read in recent memory and can sum up this point perfectly: A hockey moment this crowd won’t soon forget -Charlotte Helston
As a player it’s important for kids to understand that the game was here before them and will be here long after them. They’re NOT above the game — rules, nuances, and referee mistakes included. And without your opponent, there isn’t even a game at all, so recognizing that fact is nearly as important as respecting the game itself. Keep your celebrations classy and low key after you score, always respect the competitors you are facing, and forever show humility for the game you love to play.
3. Play hard, play clean
The first part of this rule essentially stems from making sure the kids recognize and respect the time commitments and sacrifices of their parents. For hockey parents in particular, weekends are dominated by getting your kid(s) up and fed and at the rink on time for early morning practices or games. And up until a certain age, this includes the 20+ minutes (at minimum!) it takes to help them get their hockey gear on. There’s also all of non-rink time spent doing their sweaty laundry, hanging up gear to dry, and shuffling family schedules to make everything work seamlessly. For all these reasons, kids owe it to their parents to try their best and play hard in recognition of the time given and sacrifices made on their behalf.
After that, play clean. This overlaps with the above rule about respecting your opponent, but also speaks to your character as a competitor. The best way to get even with an opponent who is aggravating you is to win. Playing dirty also puts your entire team at risk in the form of penalties/fouls. Dirty play is selfish and disrespectful to your teammates, coaches, and parents and shouldn’t exist at any level, but at the youth level, it’s 100% unacceptable.
Outside of the above rules I also hope to always be teaching accountability, commitment, effort, and pride through my words and actions.
My experience as a coach this year was one of the greatest of my life and I don’t plan on it being my last.
What are your coaching rules? What characteristics do you strive to instill in the kids on your team? Your own kids?