Coaching Checklist: Support, Encourage, Love
By Greg Bach
Ike Hilliard grew up in a small Louisiana town surrounded by a big sports-loving family, and he flourished under their non-stop love and support throughout his youth sports playing days.
“Family members coached us growing up so we had the opportunity to learn and develop skills with people we genuinely loved and respected,” says Hilliard, who played 12 seasons at wide receiver in the NFL and was active in baseball, track and football as a child. “So they had a big influence on me and everyone else, regardless of the sport we were playing.”
And the former New York Giants great – and current wide receivers coach for the Washington Redskins – urges today’s volunteer coaches to provide that same nurturing environment for their young athletes that so profoundly shaped his life.
“Players aren’t perfect – that’s the reason we coach,” says Hilliard, who won a national championship with the Florida Gators and played in a Super Bowl with the Giants. “We’re here to encourage and we’re here to help every player.”
It’s an important role of a coach that can never be taken lightly.
“As coaches we bear the burden when kids don’t play well and we revel in their joys and successes,” Hilliard says. “As coaches you have to keep encouraging kids through the good and the bad, while always being sure to praise the good.”
Hilliard, who accumulated more than 6,000 receiving yards during his NFL days, spoke with SportingKid Live from the Redskins facility on coaching kids, making practice fun and what it was like going up against some of the game’s toughest defensive backs. Here’s what he had to say:
COACH, ENCOURAGE, LOVE
“Youth coaches have to make it fun,” Hilliard says. “They have to make it as fun as possible. That’s really what it’s all about at that age level. I know as you move up it’s more about wins and losses – but what’s going to keep them coming back is the fun, regardless of how physical the game can be. So my advice is to coach them up, love them, encourage them and keep it fun.”
BUILDING SKILLS: ONE FUN STEP AT A TIME
Kids want to learn and develop skills, and it’s up to coaches to keep pace with that development with fun and challenging drills that match the kids’ progress from week to week during the season.
“One of the challenges that coaches have on a daily basis is what are you going to have the kids work on to try and make them better from the last time they stepped on the field,” Hilliard says. “How are you going to build that on a day-to-day basis and a week-to-week basis so you can help them get better? In order to be able to lay any kind of foundation for kids the process has to be fun in itself.”
Hilliard points out that kids who love the game will embrace competitive drills that challenge them.
They’ll also embrace quality coaches who show that they really care about them.
“The relationships with their coaches can help,” he says. “That’s why the coaches are there: to encourage kids and make it fun.”
PLAYING – AND LEARNING – FROM STEVE SPURRIER
Hilliard spent three seasons playing for Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida, winning a national championship in 1997 as he scored three touchdowns in a 52-20 win over top-ranked Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. Those experiences with the recently retired Spurrier have impacted how he coaches today.
“I think I’m just like anybody else,” Hilliard says. “With every experience you have even from youth football to high school to college – if you’re going to pursue coaching you sit there and look back at everything you have been fortunate to be a part of on and off the field. I definitely take a lot from what I learned from Coach Spurrier, our ole ball coach, and I share with the guys. Hopefully they can take bits and pieces of what they need and use it for themselves.”
DEION, DARRELL AND CHAMP
“I played in a great era of pro sports,” Hilliard says. “I played against Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey, Darrell Green, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Rod Woodson – some unbelievable players in this game. But the guy who taught me how to play pro football was Aeneas Williams. He frustrated me the most. As a very, very young player he taught me how to study and how to play the game. He was by far the toughest matchup I had on a snap-to-snap basis whenever I played against him. He was one heck of a player.”
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Antonio Pierce, Super Bowl champion and linebackers coach at Arizona State, on pinpointing motives and inspiring young athletes to be their best