A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Coaching kids: "A sacred responsibility"
By Greg Bach
Dru Joyce has coached a lot of basketball games through the years – from youth leagues in Akron, Ohio to big-time high school basketball, where he recently concluded his 13th season at renowned St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
And he’s coached a lot of talented players during that span, including LeBron James, who he met as a 10-year-old and coached him throughout his glorious high school career that featured three state championships and a national championship.
But through it all he’s never lost sight of what being a coach of youngsters is really all about.
“I tell other coaches that I believe coaching is a sacred responsibility,” James told SportingKid Live. “We have an opportunity to put our lives into kids’ lives at a very impactful time in their life and so much of it is caught rather than taught. It’s how you live this thing in front of them sometimes more so than what you are saying. Those are things I have really tried to do throughout my coaching career.”
DRU: We talk about service and being great. Being great means I want to serve; I want to serve my teammates. I want to serve my teammates because I’m going to take a charge; I’m going to dive for a loose ball. I’m going to do all those things that may not get me the headlines but when other players see that then they’re willing to serve, too. You have to have a group that cares enough about one another. John Wooden said it much better than I can, ‘that it’s amazing what you can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit.’”
SKL: Kids often have a tendency to get down when the game isn’t going their way. How do you teach youngsters to stay positive during the ups and downs of a game?
DRU: We try to tell them to stay focused on the present moment. We have a saying: Next play. That one’s over, it’s the next play. And it’s funny because the kids will even remind me of it sometimes when something has gone wrong. We’ll be in a timeout in the huddle and I’m telling a kid what he just did wrong and someone will say, “Coach Dru, next play.” It brings us back, and it brings me back so we can focus on the present moment. And we really talk to the kids about give the moment what the moment requires. What does the moment require of me right now? So we really try to stress those things to the kids. We also encourage them to encourage one another. We, as coaches, especially me, I’m going to point out all the things they did wrong so it’s great when there’s a guy saying “It’s ok, you’ll make the next basket.” At times as a coach I can say “It’s ok, you’ll make the next one” but it’s so much more powerful when it comes from their teammates.
SKL: What makes coaching fun?
DRU: What makes it fun is to see the joy that it brings to kids when they’ve accomplished something. And just being involved with them in the journey when there are those ups and downs and you can say something, no matter how small it might be, to help them through that because you have just helped this young man in way that will help carry him through life. That’s what keeps bringing me back, just seeing those significant moments in a kid’s life that bring them joy and bring them growth. In the end the impact we have on kids’ lives is greater than we’ll ever understand.
SKL: Youngsters on a team have such diverse personalities so how can a coach figure out how to connect with each of them?
DRU: You have to love them all different. If you’re willing to love them different that means you’re going to get involved with them and you are going to find out who they are. As you get involved and you begin to find out who they are then you can wrap your arms around them and maybe help them through some tough times. Sometimes you’re having an impact when you don’t even understand it. You may not reach every kid, and I had to learn that the hard way, but there is that one or two that you did and you’re able to help them through something and set them on a life path then you’ve done all that you can do.
SKL: Those who volunteer to work with children are providing a great service and you talk about that in your book and the importance of living the life of a servant. What do you mean by that?
DRU: I believe, just as Martin Luther King so aptly said, that anyone can be great. All you have to do is serve. You don’t have to have a college degree. All you need is a heart willing to show love and serve. That’s what we all can do in our own small world. It can be as simple as giving a smile to someone who is having a down day or holding the door open for someone. It’s very basic but it’s needed.
A child’s first coach wields enormous influence and can be the difference between a child loving – or leaving – the sport. Just ask Prim Siripipat, whose love of tennis was forged by an incredibly supportive and caring coach
She excelled on the basketball courts and soccer fields of her youth, and the lessons learned all the way through her collegiate playing days are used often in the high-pressure world of live television
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