Coaching youth sports is a great way for people to give back to the community while also having a lot of fun. It's also a big responsibility given that some of the kids you coach may take their sport seriously and want to play competitively. Coach them properly and they are likely to love the game and continue to improve. Coach them improperly and you are likely to see kids fail to develop and/or quit in frustration. Here are some things to keep in mind when coaching youth sports.
Keep The Kids First
As passionate as you may be about the sport -- or winning itself -- you have to keep in mind that you are coaching kids. They will make mistakes, a lot of them. You need to be patient with them. Correct their errors, repeatedly if necessary, but make sure that you are not so critical that playing and practicing become chores rather than fun activities. Your first job as a coach is to make sure that the kids are having fun. Player development, knowledge of the game, field awareness, and winning all stem from that start.
Praise Your Players Frequently
Positive motivation works extremely well with most kids. Look for things that they are doing well and point them out. This builds the kids' self-esteem while also making them want to become better. Saying things like "Good idea!" when a player makes the right decision but executes it poorly, or "Great effort," when a child is playing his heart out, go a long way toward earning your players' respect and getting them to want to play better, both for you and for themselves.
Teach Rather Than Criticize
Yes, sometimes criticism is warranted, such as when a player loses focus. In the overwhelming majority of cases, though, it is much better than to teach than to criticize. You are coaching youth sports, so it's quite likely that you are the first person to teach your players certain things, such as strategy and fundamentals. They can't do something if they've never been taught. When a player makes a mistake, rather than yell at them, show them what they did, why it's wrong, and how they should do it the next time. Your players will respond much better to that than yelling. If they make the same mistake over and over, keep teaching until they get it right.
Learn The Fundamentals
Sometimes people fall into positions in which they are coaching kids to play a sport that they themselves never played. This can be difficult, but often in these cases it is either you coaching or the kids not playing. If you find yourself in this situation, make it a point to learn the fundamentals of the game. For example, if you are coaching soccer, teach kids how to execute a throw-in properly. You don't have to become an expert, especially with younger kids, but you should be able to teach them new things throughout the season.
Prepare For Your Practices
Don't just wing it when it comes to practice. Practice is just that. It is a time for your players to repeat the fundamentals over and over until they get them right and to learn how to do new things. Scrimmaging is fine for part of your practice, but the rest of it should include some elements of conditioning, teaching new fundamentals and/or strategy, and drills to practice what the kids already know how to do. Before you start a practice, you should know exactly what you hope to accomplish with it. After the practice is over, assess how it went, see whether you accomplished what you planned to accomplish, and try to learn from your experience so that each practice can be better than the last.
Coaching youth sports can be fun and exciting, but it comes with responsibilities. Keeping the above suggestions in mind will help you to become a better coach, to ensure that your kids have fun, and to ensure that you develop those players at a comfortable pace. Above all, remember that the experience should be fun both for you and for the players.