How to Professionally Develop and Inspire Youth Sports Coaches
By Melissa Wickes
November 10, 2022
Youth sports coaching in 2022 is vastly different than it once was. There is new information about what kids respond to, technology, and insight into mental health that guides and inspires the way coaches should be interacting with players.
A continuous commitment to the development of coaches is necessary for the success of everyone in youth sports—the organization, the staff, and most importantly, the players.
Jason Sachs—president of the Positive Coaching Alliance—sat down with four leaders at impactful and highly successful youth sports organizations to discuss how youth sports leaders today can continue to develop and train great youth sports coaches that make positive impacts on their players. Below are the important takeaways of the conversation, but if you’d like to listen to the full panel you can watch the recording in our NextUp: the Youth Sports Management Conference content hub here.
Why should I prioritize coach development?
Youth sports is no slow moving industry, so investing time in developing and training coaches may not seem plausible. The truth is, it’s exactly that—an investment.
“If you don’t focus on development and mentorship, you will not retain your coaches, your players, or your families,” says Steve Jones, Executive at Steel Sports. “You’ll end up spending countless hours in the future replenishing those people.”
At the end of the day, you’re only as good as your worst coach. By establishing standards across the board for what a great coach at your organization looks like, you’re providing the best experience possible for your teams.
What does coach development look like?
The areas in which you choose to focus on when it comes to developing your coaches is highly dependent on your organization’s mission and core values. Once you establish your mission and core values, you will focus on making sure everything your staff does is aligned with them.
If you don’t know where to start with developing your organization’s culture, the Positive Coaching Alliance recommends labeling it as “the way we do things here.”
When developing a culture for Steel Sports, Steve met with each staff member and talked about cultural characteristics. There’s no wrong culture—and once you clearly define your culture internally, it will become clear to customers.
It’s no longer about teaching exes and oh’s, says Callie Smith, of NJ Colonials. It’s about teaching coaches how to coach, how to demonstrate, how to observe, how to interact, how to deal with parents, and how to interact with officials—which is especially important today as it becomes more and more difficult to retain officials.
“Parents are much more discerning, they want a more professional experience for their kids,” says Callie.
Dave Simeone, Director of Education at United Soccer Coaches, says their program puts a lot of time into the growth and development of coaches through online learning, training, webinars, and other educational resources that focus on the nitty gritty of working with other people. At the end of the day, it’s not a transaction for them. If a coach needs further guidance or has questions about coaching, United Soccer Coaches considers themselves “a phone call away.”
“We want to invest in those who will have a huge impact on how this next generation will experience sport,” says Dave.
Remember: coach development is a journey not a destination. Instilling in your coaches that lifelong learning is all a part of being a coach is part of meaningful development. This can mean keeping up with trends, it can mean more experienced coaches training newer coaches, etc.
How do I get buy-in from coaches?
Ultimately, you’re going to have coaches who have had success with methods that you don’t really use anymore—and that’s one of the largest challenges Callie faces at NJ Colonials. Coaching is extremely dynamic.
Empower your coaches, suggests Nick Baxter—Senior Franchise Business Coach at I9 Sports. Remind them of the difference they’re making each day by impacting kids.
How do I develop coaches for different age levels?
Think about what’s age appropriate, suggests Nick. If you’ve ever coached three year old kids, you know they’re not really playing soccer. Helping coaches understand what’s needed at every level is the first step, and then communicating that from the beginning with marketing. Explain to customers what the program will offer—on your website, in your marketing materials, via email, and face-to-face.
How do I balance the guidance of governing bodies with the coach development I feel fits best for my organization?
At NJ Colonials, every coach has to be certified by USA Hockey. Callie explains that while this takes some of the responsibility of training off of them, there are still elements of training that are not covered by USA Hockey. For example cultivating coaches from a young age is a huge part of their coach training regiment.
For that reason, they offer a Junior Coaches Program where players have the opportunity to coach and mentor younger players on a volunteer basis. This teaches them the challenges of coaching from a young age and encourages a collaborative culture.
Learn More About Coach Staff and Player Mentorship Development
You can watch the full panel discussion from NextUp: the Youth Sports Management Conference in our NextUp Content hub here. If this kind of youth sports professional development content interests you, don’t forget to subscribe to the Youth Sports Weekly Wrap to receive it straight in your inbox every week!