My Heart for Coaching Youth

This weekend has been tough for me because I had to watch my son’s love for something suffer a hit because of the way a coach talked to him. I have an 8 year old who loves baseball and is playing ball for the first time in his life. He has been playing for just over a month and has shown a lot of improvement and potential. He has been working at it improving (almost 2 hours a day) and would do more if I had the time. He loves it and wants to get better. He also has been watching a lot of baseball to learn the rules and situational plays.

This weekend he was very excited to participate on a tournament team. The team went into the tournament had very little practice time (which is hard on me as a coach who is all about preparation) and he didn’t understand or even know a lot of the rules of play for the tournament. Even so the coach the night before stressed having fun, because baseball is fun. I liked that, but then we played the games and those words seemed to ring hollow.

Day one of tourney came and went. First game was a was hard. The kids on the other team seemed to know/understand the rules and what to do per position and situationally better and it showed. Our team struggled with these things so our coaches got frustrated and the kids got frustrated and tense. Game two was better but we still lost a close one. As we packed up to leave I saw some of the boys walking away in tears.

At that point my son wasn’t crying, but very quiet and nervous. No matter how much my husband or I told my son they had improved from game one to game two, he still was incredibly disappointed and frustrated. We asked him if he was having fun, and he responded that he didn’t know. His whole demeanor had changed in the matter of one day. This is the kid who is normally bouncing off the walls, talking sports non-stop, asking to go out and play. It looked and felt like he was carrying the burden of the losses and taking it personally, like it was all his fault.

Then came day two and a loss would mean elimination. Well, we lost. They game started out ok. But as it went along you could again see again see the players for the other team understood the rules and took full advantage of them and our kids didn’t. As the coaches grew more and more frustrated at the kids inability to complete a play they began to yell. I may be alone in this, but you could see the frustration, nerves and tension build on the team and it began showing in more and more mistakes and hesitation while playing.

Elimination games are tough, as a player who played AAU and other basketball for years I know. And As a coach who has coached in these situation for the past 9 years I know. I have found the key to playing the best (and getting the most from my players) seems to depend a lot on how confident the player is and how relaxed they are in a situation. I have also noticed as a coach that how I react in the good AND the bad times really plays a part in how my players in turn react and play. Tension has a tendency to build up and leads to a fear of making mistakes, and that fear of making mistakes leads to hesitant play and even more mistakes. It’s almost like a snowball rolling down a hill. I think that is why you hear a lot of announcers talk about how a team that is playing well is loose and relaxed.

Back to the game, My son played a very good game defensively. He seemed to catch EVERYTHING thrown his way at first base. He also had several great stretches and kept his foot on the bag! But his lack of experience and knowledge of the rules led to a run by the other team and after a few innings of some yelling that he needed to know what what he was doing, pay better attention and be better he was crying so hard he had a hard time batting.

I would have wondered if maybe it was just him and his lack of experience, but I had another parent ask me before the game that morning if my son took the losses and mistakes as hard as hers did and ended up in tears. She said he would try to hide it so his dad wouldn’t see, but would be crying from the frustration and disappointment of it all.

After seeing my son in tears in the middle of the game I have to admit I was mad and hurting for my son. My husband tried to walk over and calm him down so he could bat and all he could say was he didn’t understand and didn’t know what he was doing wrong to be in trouble. What do you say to that? You can’t erase words or the way they are said. It’s ok, keep trying seems so hollow at that point. Go play hard and have fun doesn’t mean anything anymore either.

So I prayed. I prayed for a heart of understanding for his coaches. I prayed for wisdom so as not to react rashly. I prayed for my son’s heart and for his protection. I also was strengthened in my resolve to BUILD the future generations in how I coach my players. I want to continue to learn to communicate with my players in a positive and encouraging way even when they make mistake after mistake. I also have heart for encouraging other coaches of our youth to grow in how they coach.

You see I love coaching! I love helping kids learn and encouraging them to improve and be the best that they can be. My philosophy of coaching may seem strange and foreign to a lot of people. It is built around building up the kid, teaching them how to work hard, building up and praising their accomplishments and patiently correct their mistakes. I try to remove assigning blame and yelling (especially at individuals) out of the equation and instead raise the bar with encouragement. If you teach a child to love what they do it in turn makes them want to work and play harder! I have had former players tell me that they thought they could do whatever I said (even if they had never done it before) just because I believed in them.

Correction is also important, as is attention to detail, but how you correct as a coach plays a big role in how kids respond to that correction and to you. If kids are learning to do things out of fear of what mistakes mean it leads to a lot of nervous and tense players who tend to make more mistakes. I try to emphasize that if you play hard, mistakes will happen, no one is perfect. It is what you do with those mistakes that matter. Take the mistake, learn from it and let it go.

I have had people ask me why my coaching philosophy is what it is. And I can tell them it is honestly because of coaches and coaching that I have had in my past. I had a few coaches who were positive in everything. I know they got frustrated with and corrected our mistakes, but I remember being encouraged coming out of those correction encounters. I also had coaches who chewed you out for every little thing and some played mind games to try and get you to play better. I remember the ways those hurt and left a sour taste in my mouth. I also remember there was a point that a coach, because of those tactics, almost caused me to walk away from the game I loved.

Because of these interactions during my youth, these coaches shaped how I coach today. I also have to admit I sometimes have a hard time going to youth and high school games and seeing coaching interactions. It hurts every time I see a coach single out a player in front of his or her team in a negative way. Not only are they destroying their confidence, but they are shaping the way their teammates view them.

I see these traits being passed to the next generation of coaches, who will model what they know of coaching from their youth. The teaching or the ability to communicate effectively is lacking and therefore the frustration level of a coach with an ill prepared team is very high. Some instead of growing themselves and learning to teach better, they seem take it out on the kids. It twists my insides each and every time I see this. I also must emphasize that this is not all coaches, some are great encourages and motivators. Some coaches are great teachers and communicators too! I pray that my son gets some of these type of coaches in his life too!

Again returning to my son, after our game today It took two plus hours of encouragement, us playing around as a family, hitting, and throwing a ball around to get my sons confidence back up and a smile back on his face. Kids are resilient, but they can be broken. You never know as coach how an your interactions will effect them in the future, good or bad. Coaching is not easy and it takes work and a lot of prayer. I am constantly in prayer that my interactions with my players will build them up, encourage and challenge them to not only be the best they can be in their sport, but in their life!

In a situation as a parent it is a different feeling. You learn how to encourage and build up your kids and to correct them lovingly. It is a constant learning process. It is hard to sit by and see dreams and smiles get crushed. So I will continue to do the only thing I can as a parent and pray for his coaches. I will also pray for the protection of his heart. AS he plays I will continue to encourage him to do his best, to glorify God and to keep a smile on his face and to also pray for his coaches and teammates. Teaching him to change his focus to glorify God in everything he does give it a purpose and a meaning that no interaction with coaches or others can take away.

I also want to take the time to thank the ump who took his time to try and build up our kids after their game. Also thanks to the opposing coaches for the encouraging things the said to our kids during the game, and especially the one who talked to him after the game about how well he played first and to learn to relax and play with a smile. It meant a lot to him, even if it will take a while to register. Other coaches recognize when another team looks and acts defeated or scared. Some will prey on that to their advantage, others look to encourage those who are down, and I’m thankful for that.

I hope our coaches understand how important encouragement, communication and teaching is. I hope my son continues to learn and his love for baseball stays! My son asked me later in the day, why couldn’t the coaches just have explained to him the things he was doing wrong to him. He said he would understand better and try to fix them if they did. He told me that all yelling did was make him nervous and then not know what to do. I told him I didn’t know, but to pray for his coach, smile, continue to work hard, listen to their instruction and try to put it into play. But most importantly to glorify God with his actions and attitude.

I also told him not all coaches are the same and to remember what it is like to feel the way he did and maybe use it for the future. Who knows, maybe he will coach one day and be one who knows that encouragement, communication and positive reinforcement is the key! And finally I reminded him that it was just a game and a team game at that. After all, the world doesn’t end if 8 year olds lose a GAME, or any age of youth for that matter. It is a game, and it is meant to be fun.

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