Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Coaching kids

So, we're almost through with my first attempt at coaching kids. In particular I'm coaching my oldest son's basketball team. Now, I have a policy that I don't blog about my kids in particular, but I did want to post on my experiences with coaching little kids.

The team is five and six year olds, and at this age they don't actually keep score at the games. The first thing anyone who has been through this before will tell you is "well, the officials don't keep score, but the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles sure do." That couldn't be more true, but it's also not nearly as bad as it sounds. We haven't had any parents upset at our record (which was pretty abysmal). Nobody has said a word about things we could have done to "win" any of the games. All in all, I have so far been very happy with how the parents have been with all this.

The one thing I was most worried about turned out to be the thing I should be the most worried about...my own lack of patience. I knew my team wasn't great, I knew my son wasn't the best player in the league, I knew I had no experience. But the biggest worry was would I blow my top. If you had told me before this all started just a few of my "experiences" that I would face this season, I would have found someone else to coach. I would have been certain that I couldn't have gotten through these things without losing a bit of self control. But I'm proud to say I think I made it just fine. In fact, I didn't just make it fine, I handled these things without even getting internally upset very much. Okay, the first couple practices had me a little worked up afterward, but it really wasn't that bad.

One thing I realized early on...these are VERY young kids. Given that, I have zero ability to motivate them like traditional coaching situations usually provide. I can't make them run suicides if they don't do what I say. I can't make them sit on the bench during the next game if they don't try. I can't get in their faces and scream things like "If I ever see you do that again I'm going to kick you in your ass until your nose bleeds!" Yeah, I had a coach do that to me in the middle of practice around the age of eleven. I'm not entirely sure it was a good thing to do to an eleven year old. Okay, it worked on me then, but I'd be afraid to try that these days, that's for sure. Heck, I'd be afraid to try that on a fifteen year old.

So if you can't do that, what can you do? All I can figure is just try to find things that are fun and also happen to build skills. That's not easy. And sometimes if you can't find a fun way to build a skill, you just have to work a not-so-fun drill in between two fun ones. That works okay, but even at this age all you can do is herd the cats. Keep pointing them in that proper direction as best you can, and repeat as necessary.

What's really hard? Having your own son in the middle of it all. He's a great kid, but he's a kid too. So when he does one of those things that makes you want to scream, it's that much harder to fight the urge because he's the one you can scream at. Well, legally and all that. But it still won't help, so you just roll along and try to have a conversation afterward about it.

At the end of it all, though, there's not a lot of feelings better than showing a kid the proper way to do something like this and then watching them try a time or two and have it work. It's especially great when they realize they've achieved something they have never done and may not have thought they could do at all. That look in their eyes is priceless. I think that is why the good coaches coach.

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