Coaching As A Parent

Every year in the U.S. as many as 20 million youngsters participate in formal sports programs and approximately 2.5 million adults commit their time to be coaches. In many cases community programs are starving for volunteers to coach. So, if an adult, usually a parent, is willing to commit the time, they automatically get the job. The prerequisite for coaching in youth sports? You must be a warm body and know how many players should be on the playing field at any given time. 

 The problem with this picture is that all too often frustrated adult jocks become coaches and pass on their pent up ambitions onto their nubile players making the sports experience for many children a negative one. 

 Many of these "frustrated jock" coaches utilize a teaching style that emphasizes a negative approach to modifying behavior. That is, they attempt to eliminate mistakes through the use of punishment and criticism. Example: "How many times have I told you to set the ball with two hands? Do you want us to lose the game?" This approach not only makes the child feel terrible about their mistake which in turn makes them even more nervous when they're in the same situation again, but it also provides a negative experience and increases the likelihood that child won't be back to participate next season. 

 When coaches understand that their role is an extension of parenting, they soon realize that there's a better way to teach kids, correct mistakes and make the entire sporting activity a positive and happy experience for the youngster. 

 An enlightened approach to coaching that is catching on in the Northwest is a program called "Positive Coaching". This "philosophy" of being positive in teaching sports to youth has been around for some time. There are various educators in the Northwest that have developed variations of "Positive Coaching" programs and have been presenting those throughout many Washington communities. However, two years ago the Washington Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect adopted the "Positive Coaching" concept as it was very clear that many abuses of children occur on a regular basis on the playing field. 

 Positive Coaching is characterized by a liberal use of reinforcement. Two programs that are currently endorsed by the Council have been developed by Dr. Frank Smoll of the University of Washington and John Devine, an educator and coach. 

 Smoll's research found that the single most important difference between coaches to whom children respond most favorably and those to whom they respond least favorably was the frequency with which they reinforced desirable behaviors. Smoll promotes looking for positive things and reinforcing them. He found that reinforcement, sincerely given, didn't spoil the child, but rather, it gave them something to strive for. 

 All too often coaches emphasize the importance of "winning" in your sports. However, a coach should focus on effort rather than the end result. Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden best characterized this attitude when he said: 


    "When the game is over, I want your head up -- and I know only one way for your head to be up -- and that's for you to know that you did your best...This means to do the best you can do. That's the best; no one can do more...You made that effort." 


Many people tend to focus on the negative side of mistakes. We consider them to be bad and should be avoided at all costs. Certainly, no one normally "tried" to make mistakes. But mistakes do have a positive side. They provide the information we need to improve performance and are important stepping stones to achievement. If coaches can convey this idea to young athletes, they can help them to accept and learn from their mistakes. 

 The "positive coaching" philosophy works. A youngster who is positively motivated welcomes and peaks under pressure, while the fear-of-failure youth dreads critical situations and the possibility of failure and disapproval. A positive coach always encourages their players to do their best. We can do no more than our best which is one of the most valuable lessons we can ever learn. 

 The Washington Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect has set aside funds to allow experts like Smoll and Devine to give "positive coaching" presentations to groups throughout the State of Washington. The Council believes that a child's experience in athletics should be both a fun and challenging one at the same time. These seminars, which are designed to give youth coaches the tools to work more effectively with young athletes, are intended to have that result. 

 In fact, it would eventually be a benefit to all youth athletic programs if coaches were required to attend a "positive coaching" seminar before participating as a coach. Knowing how to set a ball or serve it is only a small part of learning to be a good coach. The real key is learning how to motivate youth so that in the end everyone benefits from their experience in the youth athletic program.