By Greg Bach
Earlier this spring we had the opportunity to sit down with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, and one of the many topics we explored was leadership – and how volunteer coaches can become better at it.
He told us: “It’s not about the coach, it’s about the kids. For me it’s about my players. It’s about their career and their family life. It’s not about me.”
Nothing fancy or complex there.
Just straightforward advice from one of the game’s great leaders.
And while on the surface it may sound simple – it takes real focus and a coach’s full attention to make happen with their youth teams.
“You have to get to know them,” Girardi says of working with children. “You have to get know their backgrounds and where they grew up. Do they have brothers or sisters? What’s it like at home? You have to find out what really gets them going and what motivates them. And some kids you don’t even have to motivate because they’re self-motivated. But there are other kids that you will have to dig a little deeper.”
That requires constant communication to make those connections, particularly with kids who are shy or perhaps new to sports.
So, talk to players as they arrive at practice; chat with them during stretching exercises; and check in with them as they’re waiting for those post-practice rides home.
And make sure you’re dialed in on what’s being said.
“Listen to the kids,” Girardi says. “Do things that they like to do in your practices but do the things that are necessary to get them better, too. It’s important that you keep them engaged. And I think in youth sports the kids can get disengaged pretty quickly if they’re standing around.”
So, keep them moving.
That means exciting drills. Continual action. And yes, they must have a lot of fun throughout the process.
“It’s about them getting better and enjoying the game,” Girardi says. “Kids have to smile. It’s not about the wins and losses at that level, there will be a time for that.”
But now is the time to teach skills, build a passion for the game and get kids so excited that they can’t wait to come back again next season.
“You have to remember that your job as a coach is to teach kids the fundamentals of the game and to have them want to come back,” Girardi says. “If they don’t want to come back then you’re not doing your job.”
Antonio Pierce, Super Bowl champion and linebackers coach at Arizona State, on pinpointing motives and inspiring young athletes to be their best
Monique Henderson, Olympic track great and college coach, on chasing improvement one fun-filled step at a time
Ole Miss sports psychologist Dr. Josie Nicholson on helping your young athletes deliver positive messages to themselves to perform at their best
Reinforcing effort, coupled with a heavy dose of encouraging words, can help young athletes enjoy productive and rewarding seasons