A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Building Bonds: Connecting with your players
By Greg Bach
As a youth coach you’ve got a heaping plate of responsibilities and one of the more important ones is forging those special connections with all your players.
That means avoiding the dreaded trap of focusing the bulk of your attention on only the most athletic kids and striving to establish those really valuable connections with everyone on the roster so that no one feels left out and neglected
“I know sometimes coaches can get caught up talking to a select group,” says Renaldo Hill, who played 10 seasons in the NFL and is the cornerbacks coach at the University of Pittsburgh. “But you have to try to relate to them all and speak to them as a whole because this is a team sport and you always have to remember that. You want everyone to get the whole picture and the whole understanding of what is coming across.”
To be successful in this endeavor, it comes down to knowing and understanding each of your players. And embracing everyone’s contributions, no matter how big or small they may be.
“It’s about relaying messages to different personalities that you have and finding out who those guys are and finding the right way to get the message across to them,” says Hill, who played both cornerback and safety during his NFL career. “Everybody is a bit different in that aspect so that’s why we have to dig deeper as coaches and try to understand our players a lot more on that individual side of things so you can relay those messages. You have to find what makes each player tick. This way when you need to talk to a player individually you can address him the right way that you may not address another guy so you find those things out about your players as you go along.”
“Volunteer coaches need to understand that there are going to be ups and downs,” says Hill, who was a first team All-Big Ten cornerback and team captain for Michigan State during his senior season. “It’s a building process. It should be a game that the kids should just enjoy so let them enjoy the process. Continue to help build with them and just enjoy it. Enjoy every moment; enjoy every game.”
As a volunteer coach, never take your role for granted – there’s simply too much at stake.
“A coach’s impact is huge,” Hill says. “Even some of the things that I may mention to my players now are some of the same foundations that I grew up with. Even to this day when I go back and talk to my high school coach I just laugh because I remember him telling me those exact things and now here I am telling my guys the same thing. Having those coaches in my life has been beneficial from the time I left them all the way through the point where I’m at now so those things you carry on and it helps you as you progress through these life experiences.”
INSTILLING A NEVER-QUIT ATTITUDE AMONG YOUR TEAM
“Ken Mannie, the strength and conditioning coach at Michigan State, always told us to believe that you have a chance no matter what the situation might look like,” Hill says. “Being an eternal optimist, he always spoke on that and that you just never know. So putting all the effort in until there is zero on that clock. That is something that I have always held onto and now that I am a coach you want your players to have that same belief that they have an opportunity until there is zero on the clock. I hold that dearly.”
KEEPING KIDS UPBEAT AND POSITIVE
Kids have a tendency to get down on themselves – and stay down – when they surrender a big play. So it’s crucial that coaches help them stay positive when adversity arrives.
“All it takes is for one ball or one play for a defensive player to be beaten and that’s all someone is going to remember, so the player has to have the confidence and the short memory to let it go and move forward,” Hill says. “I try to be positive with those guys in those moments because football is a long game and one play won’t determine the game. But at the same time you want that player to have the attitude and have the confidence that he can go out and make the next play.”
Sending kids home after practice with positive messages fuels confidence and passion for the sport. See how Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery makes it happen with his team and adopt his approach to benefit your players, too
Troy Calhoun, the head football coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy, on helping young athletes learn, improve and savor competing
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