Coaching, Character, and Youth Sports
Coaching for character
Posted Nov 05, 2014
Such behavior is driven by many things, but I think that when it is driven by the attitudes and actions of coaches, the potential for problems is the greatest. Players and parents often imitate or reflect what their coaches do. If the coach continously complains to the referee, players often do the same. This can be true of many parents as well; they often follow the lead of the coach. Coaches have a special responsibility to attempt to foster sportsmanship and other virtues in their athletes, in part because of the power they possess as coaches.
Many coaches will bench a player for making a mistake on the field or court. I think, at least at the youth level, that this is a mistake. It can undermine the athlete's confidence and freedom on the field. Young athletes are developing athletes, and should not be punished for mistakes. Youth coaches should use the power of the bench to encourage good character. As a youth soccer coach, I benched a very good player for disprespectful behavior towards her teammates. I've also benched players for not working hard on the field. Nothing sends a message that you value something as well as tying it to playing time. My hope is that in these instances, the players learn something about the importance of respect and perseverance.
This works for parents as well. Parents who seemingly cannot control themselves will quickly calm down if you inform them that their child will not play until they do so. They may end up leaving the team, or they may change their ways. Either possiblity is a win for the coach who takes such a stand, and for his or her team.
When I've engaged in behavior as a coach that I've later regretted, it is usually because I've let how the team performs become a matter of my personal ego. There is nothing wrong with taking proper pride in a job well done, but when the game becomes about the coach (or the parents) rather than the athletes, something is wrong. When this happens, there is still an opportunity for a teachable moment. Apologizing to players for lapses in respect or sportsmanship can have more of an impact than any lecture on these topics. This is another way that a coach can have a lasting influence on the character of young athletes. And this, to me, is one of the greatest things a coach can do.
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