Coaching kids: Good cop, bad cop

Successful coaches aren’t charmers. We recognise the sheer toughness required to coach international sides, but we prefer generosity and warmth when looking for instructors for our kids.

The difficulty is that we all like watching our kids win.That isn’t the same as encouraging gloating – we just want sport to offer our children that sense of pride and achievement. Maybe that red-faced, shouty old-school coach with the foghorn voice helps build your child’s confidence in actual tournaments?

The coach who ensures every child is comfortable can open them up to some public humiliations in the face of harder-working young athletes. And the competitive coach risks alienating children who simply enjoy running around, and might see squad numbers dwindling.

I think there are three ways of finding a good fit. Firstly, any club develops a culture which parents and children can assess. What does the club want? Recruit more girls, strengthen lower age groups, bring back silverware? What does it say on the tin?

Secondly, amongst the young players, tolerance for criticism will vary massively. “Well played” might be too understated for a kid who expects wild clapping for just remembering his boots. “Try harder” might be an outright insult. I think this challenge – a language one – rests with the parents, not the coach. Adults must teach their children that teachers, instructors, grandparents and aunties have different rules on their turf and that not too much should be read into lukewarm praise or stinging criticism. Give the kids time to learn how to interpret adults.

Thirdly, self-esteem is the ultimate protection against life. Social, academic and sporting confidence feed off each other. You can be told that you’ve been clumsy or ditzy in a hundred more or less diplomatic ways, but that doesn’t sum up who you are and what you bring to the club. Your daughter might have butterfingers one day, but if she is willing to train in all weathers then her team relies on her. Your son might not follow the super-tactical chat, but he might always push himself during fitness sessions. Then his club relies on him. Every skill will have its moment, and your average coach might not always see or express that. The coach doesn’t set every standard, though – you should trust that friendly comments from other players and parents build the resilience to handle a “get your act TOGETHER” now and then.

NY Times blog on adult values creeping into kids’ coaching:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/the-power-of-positive-coaching/?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%23%2Fthe%2

NY Times interview with a really unpleasant NCAA coach:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/magazine/coach-bobby-knight-on-why-hes-so-unpleasant.html?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%23%2Fthe%2Bpower%2Bof%2Bpositive%2Bcoaching%2F