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Coaches Corner

Coaching Kids and Working with Parents
I have gotten lots of questions from coaches and parents about coaching youth basketball, and advice for coaching youngsters, let's say 1st through 6th grades... elementary school children.

You are probably a parent coach, a teacher-coach, a former player, or just someone who likes kids and wants to help coach and work with a bunch of kids. You may be organizing a recreational league or a church league, or are developing a program at your elementary school.
Some of the kids may have played some, and some have never played before. Some are there because they already love the game, and some are there because of their friends. Some were urged by their parents to give it a try.

Their parents will likely have varying perspectives. A few will think you should win every game at whatever cost, and will be yelling advice from the sidelines. Some will be thankful and happy that their child is on your team. Some will be a little fearful that you may yell at their child, or that their child may not be a good player and will embarrass him/herself.

So what advice do I give you?
First, make it fun for the kids. Do not yell negative things at them as this embarrasses them in front of their friends, and is actually counter-productive creating more stress and more mistakes. It makes you look like a bully, and you may completely turn the player away from ever wanting to play again.

You can yell, but it should always be positive comments. If a player messes up, don't embarrass him/her in front of his/her friends. For example, if someone is having trouble with a certain skill or drill, rather than pointing the finger at him, blow the whistle and say, "Some of you are having trouble doing... blah, blah, blah... let me show you how to do this." So maintain a positive attitude, even if you are losing by 30 points.

Teach good sportsmanship by your example... no yelling at the refs, no demeaning the other team, other players, etc. Teach them to play hard, but do not allow "dirty" play or trash talking. Teach them to respect their opponents and the officials. Wins and losses are not important at this age. Teach them that you don't have to win a trophy to be a winner.

Also, let the kids know that it is OK to make mistakes, that you expect them to make mistakes. Basketball is not a perfect game. All players make mistakes, even Michael Jordan. Coaches make mistakes, and we all know that the refs make mistakes! You just have to keep playing hard and learn from those errors. "A good garden may have a few weeds."

If you have an actual team (not a large clinic-type group), teach them about teamwork and their responsibilities to the team... coming to practice, encouraging each other, helping each other, etc.

When dealing with parents, be honest and open and show them that you really care about helping their child... get them on your side. Make yourself available to talk with them after a game. Be diplomatic about any "coaching" advice they have to offer. Rather than getting into an argument with them, just politely thank them for their interest... you obviously don't need to follow their advice, but you also don't have to be snotty about it either!

Remember that most parents are good people who care about their kids and just want what's best for them, just like all of us do. Do not simply choose to ignore parents. You may be able to get away with this if you are coaching at the college level, but it is still churlish, inconsiderate behavior. When coaching youth basketball, even at the high school level, parents can help make or break you... believe it!

If you have a son/daughter on the team... be fair. Do not give your own child more playing time than the others. Treat your child like any other player on the team... do not over-criticize and expect more from him/her. And don't provide him/her any special treatment either.

When you are at the court, he/she is like any other player on the team. Away from the court, he/she is your special child and needs your love and support, not criticism... save any criticism or advice for when you are actually in the gym... kids don't even want to hear about it in the car on the way home. My daughter sure didn't!

- Stan Van Gundy