A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Lessons from a legend: Show kids you truly care about them
By Greg Bach
Shammond Williams – the sharpshooting guard who played in three Final fours for North Carolina in the ’90s – learned a crucial coaching lesson from Hall of Fame Coach Dean Smith that he has never forgotten: Make sure your players know you truly care about them.
“He was a great man and he cared about me more than he cared about my athleticism and being an athlete,” says Williams, in his third season as an assistant coach at Tulane. “He didn’t only tell me that – he showed me – and that’s the most important thing. And those are the things that mean the most to anybody.”
So even if youngsters have turned in their best game of the season – or struggled with one of their poorest performances – as coaches, role models and mentors it’s crucial that your feelings for your players aren’t fluctuating with their performances.
They need to know you care about them unconditionally, both on the good and the not-so-good days, as young players learning the game are going to go through more ups and downs than the stock market.
But when you are consistent with them they’ll recognize that immediately, and that leads to more productive coaching.
“The actions of an individual dictate how they feel about you and what they are thinking,” says Williams, who enjoyed a 13-year pro career that included playing for the Lakers, Celtics and Magic. “Coach Smith was outstanding. It really shaped me as an individual and it most definitely shaped me as a future coach.”
FOCUS ON THE KIDS AND THE RESULTS WILL FOLLOW
As a youth coach it’s important that you divert your attention away from the scoreboard and put that focus on your players.
“Coach Smith was selfless and that’s the most important thing,” says Williams, who finished his career in Chapel Hill as the career leader in three-pointers made with 233. “He didn’t worry about wins and losses. He worried about us as individuals. When you show the love and the focus toward individuals their growth is going to reciprocate the success.”
That’s the message Williams has carried with him throughout his coaching career now, too.
“I care about the kids,” he says. “Understand that these individuals need help and I’m trying to help them respond to become great men.”
PRODUCTIVE PRACTICING – WHAT’S YOUR PLAN?
Many kids are showing up in programs having played a lot of basketball and knowing a lot about the game.
So you’re challenged to provide practices that meet these players’ needs.
“The information age we’re in allows kids to see and to learn a lot of things and they are playing so much basketball,” Williams says. “So you’ve got to create an environment where they enjoy being with you and are receptive to the things you are teaching. It’s no different than a movie: If you don’t make a good movie people are not going to come and see it.”
UNDERSTANDING ROLES: PLAYING YOUR PART
Of course every child can’t be the team’s top scorer, or it’s go-to player with the game on the line. But, they all can play important roles on the team – if you make it clear how you’re counting on everyone.
And appreciate everyone’s efforts.
“They have to understand the importance of playing their part and you have to emphasize that as a coach,” Williams says. “And you do that by holding everyone accountable and making everything important. If you treat them all the same it’s going to bear fruit and kids understand that. It’s important that they understand that everything they do, from setting screens to passing the basketball, is just as important as the guy who made the bucket.”
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
Press Box Signup Form
Press Box (weekly e-newsletter)
The Press Box is a weekly e-newsletter bringing you the latest news stories in youth sports, research on youth athlete safety and wellness, and more. Stories are carefully curated to bring subscribers only the best quality content and news.