A couple months ago, I came across this blog post detailing what former MLB outfielder Mark Kotsay believes is important in leading a youth baseball team. (If you don’t know who Mark Kotsay is, Wikipedia has you covered here.) Kotsay’s suggestions are baseball specific because that’s naturally what people will ask him about, but his five points are pretty universal to all youth sports.
#1 – His first comment deals with unavoidable failure in baseball (something I’ve written more about previously, found here). Failure specific to baseball is so important because of the high failure rate inherent to the sport. Obviously, we don’t want to promote a 70% failure rate in other youth sports, but failure is still important because it’s supposed to be happening in a safe environment. This is where “crazy sports dad” and “crazy youth coach” are missing the target. Kids need to be allowed to perform, and they need to be allowed to safely fail in order to learn how to productively fail.
#2 – Point #2 is directly related to Point #1. If we’re creating an environment of safe failure, we need to reinforce that safety by providing encouragement through positive feedback. Piling harsh comments on top of existing failure will naturally make kids afraid of failing, which ultimately leads to their quitting the activity entirely. Let the kids fail, then encourage them to get back up and try it again. They don’t need parents or coaches to point out their failures again; they’re smart enough to already know they failed.
#3 – I really like his third comment as it is a good reminder for both coaches and parents.
* Something for coaches to remember – if you’re constantly shouting directions during the game, kids are going to rely on your telling them what to do while play is happening. So what happens when the kids are forced to make a split second decision? Or can’t hear you? When are you, as a coach, going to talk to your players on the sideline if you have to constantly tell the players in the game what to do? Coach them up during practice, and let them make decisions during games.
* I have even easier advice for parents regarding in-game coaching: don’t.
#4 – I don’t entirely agree with Kotsay on this one. I don’t think that coaches can control a team’s effort and attitude; I believe that only the players can control their efforts and attitudes. What we can do as coaches is control our own attitude and effort. Kids know if you’re working hard as a coach, and kids know if you enjoy coaching the sport. I used to tell my football teams that the two things I always wanted from them was to out-work and out-execute our opponents. If I was expecting the kids to do that, I felt like I had better be doing the same things.
Specific to attitude – if you, as a coach (or parent), want your kids to bring a good attitude to practice and games every day, make sure you provide them with an environment that they enjoy. If kids can experience success and failure while having fun and feeling safe, they’ll show up with a good attitude far more often than a bad one. (And don’t forget that the kids on your team have a TON more things on their minds than just your practice/game. A bad test during school or bad conversation with a parent/girlfriend/boyfriend/etc. can greatly effect how a kid feels about being at practice that day.)
#5 – Yup; what he said. If they aren’t having fun, why are they playing?
Did Kotsay get it right? Do you agree? Disagree? A little of both?