Let’s face it: winning doesn’t suck. That being said though, it’s the coach who determines the team’s focus. When my oldest started club volleyball, her team lost every game the entire season. What was amazing, though, was how her coaches made her feel. Because the focus was on development, their coach made them feel like winners because he could see visible improvement from game to game. He told them how proud of them he was and noted specific instances of how the team improved. It turns out, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how the team performs based on the goals the coach sets for the team. Setting goals around team chemistry and development is a more powerful message, both for sport and in life, for the players. The coach has the ability to transcend winning versus losing statistics into something bigger and more inclusive.
Handling a Losing Streak
The first place to begin when creating team culture as a coach is to define team goals. What do we want to get out of our season? For me, team goals do not include win/loss record. Instead, my goals are focused on team chemistry. I believe that if there is team work in the form of good team chemistry, the wins will come.
Typically, a volunteer parent coach isn’t being evaluated on their win/loss record. If team record isn’t being used to evaluate ourselves, what are the other measurements that we are using? Usually volunteer coaches’ priorities are based on if they are creating a healthy environment, and being positive. Continue reading “Handling a Losing Streak”
My husband coached all our kids for soccer in various capacities including head coach of kindergarten soccer, and assistant coach for our oldest’s U13 team where he ran a weekly practice session. It was harder for him to coach girls as they became tweens. He felt that the girls tended to waste time talking amongst themselves, and didn’t seem to take seriously enough. That put pressure on our daughter to be the “good example” which she did not enjoy. On the other hand, my husband felt he was volunteering specifically for her because the team had a coaching crisis. While they worked through their challenges as the season unfolded, it would have been helpful for them to address these issues before they stepped on the pitch.
Coaching Your Own Daughter
Coaching your own daughter can be tricky. The best way to handle conflicts that arise when your mom or dad is also your coach I’ve found is to talk about it before the season begins.
Step 1: Accepting Your Parent in the Coaching Role
The immediate reaction of my daughter when she learns that I am volunteering to assistant coach her team is generally not one of enthusiasm. One way to position my role is to let her know that parents are helping out the team in different ways because of their skill sets and that this is my way of contributing. Parents who are good at computer skills are helping out behind the scenes by organizing carpools and snacks, ordering uniforms and sweatshirts, or doing team communications. My daughter probably didn’t realize that other parents help out the team because their roles are not as visible. Once my daughter realized that other parents are also volunteering, and that helping out practices is my strength, she willing to accept me in this role. Continue reading “Coaching Your Own Daughter”
I’ve noticed that every time my daughters’ come into something new, whether it’s a new team or a new sport, there’s a period of adjustment and of finding their place in the pecking order. During this assessment period, they aren’t feeling very confident. They rely on signals from their coach and teammates to relay to them that they are valued and that they are “good.” It’s an uncomfortable place of insecurity, of being judged, and of not having secure relationships with everyone. It doesn’t matter if it’s an individual sport or a team sport, I’ve noticed. For every new beginning, a player needs support to build her confidence.
Building a Player’s Confidence
There are some crucial fundamentals to establish in order to build a player’s confidence. The first step is to the culture that you create. It’s crucial to create a culture of safety. I, as your coach, can’t help you with your confidence level if you are looking over your shoulder thinking that you might be cut. First and foremost, is making every player feel safe.
It’s always the small things that my kids remember about why they loved playing a particular sport or on a particular team. I asked my middle daughter what made her sport teams’ experience fun, and she said it was being with friends. And cake. It really made her happy when birthdays were celebrated after practices or games (whatever was closest to the girl’s actual birthday), and the parent supplied cupcakes. It’s easy to lose sight that the reason why my child is doing this sport is that it’s fun and the minute it stops being fun, she will move on to something else.
Keeping It Fun
Coaches are the first line of defense to make sure the sport is fun for the players. We as coaches are driving some of the pressure in sport. Kids are feeling the pressure … to be number one, and to be compared through measurements and stats.
We have to make sure that our athletes aren’t feeling the pressure to be number one, to get that scholarship, to have an undefeated season. That’s just too much pressure. Continue reading “Keeping It Fun”
Navigating body image as girls go through puberty is challenging. Add in sports and there is an added level of complexity. On the one hand, sports teach girls that their bodies are to be celebrated for what it can do; being strong and capable. On the other hand, media informs girls that they are being evaluated solely on their appearance. As a parent, this drama plays out in small ways – is there an after-game team snack and does it have to be “healthy?” Are matchups with size differences – “that team is so huge” — seen as intimidating or “unfair?”
I was that mom. My middle daughter who played a lot of soccer was usually the smallest kid on the field. A matchup with a girl much taller seemed like a doomed proposition. Team snacks were also a minefield had to be carefully considered for parental approval, and I usually provided multiple options just to be safe. But this was the tip of the iceberg.
My oldest daughter played town soccer for a volunteer dad coach who also happened to teach at one of our local middle schools. My daughter was an awkward phase of puberty – she would gain weight first and stay the same height for a long time, before shooting up. She also had knee problems from tight hamstrings and puberty and often couldn’t participate from being in pain. Her coach was not sympathetic, and called her out in front of her teammates for being lazy and unfit. This ended up being the last year she played soccer.
Body Image, Puberty and Sports
Even a decade ago, I noticed that young girls in the age range of eleven and twelve, weren’t thinking about their bodies. But now puberty is happening at a younger age. There’s also a trend in more form fitting soccer uniforms. Even for youth players like U12 girls, the kits are more narrow and it makes girls more conscious of body image. One consequence of these trends is that some young girls will restrict their eating, and that’s where the coach can come in and be a positive influence.
My daughter’s club volleyball coach is an amazing coach. He would thank players for running for an out of bound ball that they had no hope of getting to. He’s say, “Thank you so much for running after that ball.” And they would walk through fire for him. I asked him walking over to the team dinner that night if he had always coached this way. He said that he used to be the coach that was the hardest on the most promising player, but he learned that you can’t coach girls that way.
Positive Reinforcement is Critical
Girls want to be pushed but they need some positive reinforcement. They have to feel that when you’re pushing them, you still believe in them. Which means that you can’t tell them at the end of practice; they need a small amount of positive feedback during practice. Continue reading “Positive Reinforcement is Critical”
My kids probably respected and sometimes even feared their coach more than any other authority figure in their lives. That’s the person they worried the most about. Does my coach like me? Am I going to start? I noticed that my middle daughter’s town coach would work with her team on kindness and appreciating every member of the team through “pump up” letters before games. In small ways and big ways, coaches have enormous influence that can be tapped and used to encourage athletes to develop not just as good players, but good people.
Developing Good People Not Just Good Players
The role of the coach can influence far beyond the field. It’s really important to recognize non-soccer things to help develop players into good people. For example, I coach U14 girls on a club team and I might recognize the player for being courteous because they let someone cut them in line. Somebody didn’t have a change to go so you recognize that and you let them go ahead of you. As opposed to I am going to be the first one in front the college coach who’s recruiting here today.
One issue for my middle daughter when she played club soccer was car pool. The problem was that she was the only person on her team from her town. There three other car pools based on location and then a few girls who also were the only ones from their town. It wasn’t that the girls from town car pools were inherently mean or exclusive or catty … but they came into practice as group who just car pooled together, and most played together for years on town teams together. They talked about people that go to their school that no one else knew. And, on the field, one group had a, most likely unconscious, tendency to pass to each other.
How To Deal With Cliques
If you tell girls to form teams of four, they will naturally go into groups based on who they socially know. It might be a group of girls from the same town who car pool together. It might be from the same elementary school if it’s a town team. It might be by age group if it’s a mixed age team. My daughter’s town team is comprised of 7th graders and 8th graders and you can see the girls stand in groups by age. Continue reading “Cliques On and Off the Field”
As a mom of two girls and one boy, I would say that coaching boys versus girls is a continuum, and that this is not a hard and fast rule of differences for all boys and all girls. But I observe that the coaches of my girls who were most impactful took a Whole Child approach, with the social-emotional piece a significant one. Alison’s approach to this chapter is both her own experiences plus she polled many of her coach friends, both male and female, to get their take on what they think are the differences coaching girls versus boys.
What Are the Differences Coaching Girls versus Boys?
The University of North Carolina coach, Ansen Dorrance, gave me a really valuable piece of advice when I first started coaching. His advice was to give the girls on the team the first ten minutes of practice. Let them catch up with each other during this time, and then you will have their attention for the next eighty minutes of practice. If you don’t, they will try to get their ten minutes the entire practice, meaning they are distracted. Continue reading “What Are the Differences Coaching Girls versus Boys?”