Coaching a youth team might seem intim­i­dat­ing, but you’re capable of leading your child’s squad. Anthony Stone offers some tips to get you started.

Volunteer coaches are the backbone of our youth. Almost all organizations, from schools to park districts, depend on volunteers as a way to offer sports. The need is great, but getting people to volunteer can be difficult. I have been on both sides of this equation: I’ve been a coach looking for parents to volunteer and I’ve been asked as a parent to volunteer so my child can have a team.

Being a volunteer coach is very demanding, but it can also be very rewarding. If you are coaching young children, it is important to make sure they have fun while learning since they are experiencing all their “firsts” of that sport. What they experience with you leaves a lasting impression that can make them hate the sport or completely fall in love with it. No pressure, but you might be influencing a future NFL Hall of Fame player.

It can feel overwhelming to step into the role by the time you go over all the rules, position, drills, skills and fundamentals. I am fortunate because I am a physical education teacher and football coach, but most volunteers have no experience coaching or keeping a group of children focused on learning a skill. I have had the privilege to coach my son’s NFL Flag Football team through the Rockford Park District for the last two years, and this year I started volunteering for two of our daughters’ (Jade and Alexis) soccer teams. Being able to coach my own children is an honor! I love sharing in their excitement and making memories with them!

Here are a few tips to help you be a successful volunteer coach for your child’s team:

1. Check with the Organization on How to Volunteer

It is important to check with the organization first to see what is required before you just walk on the field to coach. All youth programs should have you complete a background check and some sort of coaching certification. It is important to make sure the children are safe and the coaches are knowledgeable.

2. Make Sure You Have the Time

Don’t cut yourself too thin. A stressed-out coach or a coach that is unreliable due to their work schedule does not have a positive effect on the team. You never want to over-promise and under-deliver when dealing with children. They are looking up to you as a role model and leader.

3. Be Knowledgeable About the Sport You Coach

Just because you played when you were a kid doesn’t mean you know how to coach that sport 20-30 years later. You should complete a coaching certification to make sure you are actually learning the material, not just skimming through the course enough to pass. Rules and techniques have changed over the years. For example, volleyball scoring is now rally scoring and there is a new position called libero/defensive specialist. Make sure you keep up with advances in the sport.

4. Don't Play Favorites

It is important when coaching young children to involve all players and don’t leave any sitting on the sidelines. Make sure to rotate players often. Don’t just play your starters and only rotate players if you have a lead or wait until the last minute of the game. You are responsible for building their confidence as a player.  

5. Have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan Kobayashi Maru

If you are a Star Trek fan then you understand what that means. Always have a plan. Doing so will take some of the stress away from coaching.

As a volunteer coach make sure you have:

  • A goal for the team
    • What do you want to accomplish by the end of the season? For example, is there a skill you want the players to be able to master?
  • A checklist
    • Practice schedule - Make sure parents know where to be and when to be there. Remind them to communicate with you if they are not able to be there.
    • Emergency action plan for practices (games are taken care of by the league)
    • Playbooks – keep them basic for young children.
    • Practice plan to keep you on task
    • Equipment (if not supplied by the league or players)
    • Contingency Plan - if it rains, do you have a backup plan for practice?  Example: I have done a chalk talk at Culver’s where I provided the team with ice cream while they listen to me.
  • Communication - Make sure you have a way to communicate with the parents & players.
    • Email
    • Phone numbers
    • Private Facebook group for the parents only. Make sure only the coach or league contact has admin rights and set it so all posts are approved by the admin first.
  • More parents to be a volunteer coach to help assist with the team.
    •  More parents might want to help but don’t think they are needed.
      • They can help cover in case you can’t make practice or a game or are running late.
      • More help allows you to break the team into smaller groups during practice.
      • Additional support on game day for sideline help to keep the players focused.
      • You can assign certain duties to take more off your plate.
  • Team mom or dad
    • They are a great resource for any team no matter the level or sport.
    • It’s another team position for a mom or dad that doesn’t want to coach.
    • They help the coach with making sure all the players have the required forms filled out.
    • They are responsible for the treat schedule. It is not mandatory, but the team can vote on having treats. Ask the children or their parents about food allergies.
    • They bring an extra first aid kit just in case a coach forgets theirs.
    • Have them take pictures during practice to share with the team through text, email or a private Facebook group.
    • They can help coach make announcements or reminders about the week.
    • They can help the coach make sure the players have all their uniforms and proper equipment for practice and game day.

6. Make Sure You K.I.S.S.

Keep It Simple, Stupid. The one thing a lot of coaches have to understand is that children don’t have the mindset of learning like you do and don’t have the knowledge that you have. Every child might have a different way of learning, so you need to make sure you incorporate all the ways.

  • Visual Learners - learn through seeing
    • Put your playbook on paper.
    • Draw it up on a dry erase board.
    • Use cones that allow the players see the spots on field.
  • Auditory Learners - learn through hearing
    • Listen to the coach.
    • Follow directions given by the coach.
  • Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners - learn through moving, touching or doing
    • Tell the players where to go then go do it.
    • Show the players what to and then mimic it right after.

7. Establish a Stretching Routine

Do the same stretches before and after every practice and before every game. If something comes up, your child or designated player can lead the team.

8. Play Fun Games That Teach and Condition the Players

It is important to keep players engaged, especially at a young age. They learn more while having fun. The benefit of playing games with children is they won’t even know that they are conditioning or learning by just playing a little game rather than making them run laps.

9. Make it a Goal That Your Players Improve Every Game, Not Win Every Game

Some coaches and parents might not like this tip, but it is important to teach them that it is OK not to win every game as long as they are improving every game.

10. Remind Parents That Your Are a Volunteer

Parents seem to forget as the season goes on that you are a parent that stepped up so the kids could have a team. You are doing this for free and out of the kindness of your heart.

I hope that after reading these tips more parents volunteer and help their son or daughter’s team. As a father, I am happy that I volunteer and share these experiences with my children.  Our children are only little once so let’s help make their experiences ones that last a lifetime.

Please share your volunteering experiences with me on Twitter by using #HudlVolunteerCoach.

Anthony Stone is a Physical Education teacher at Gregory Elementary School and Quarterbacks Coach at Boylan High School in Rockford, Ill.  He is also the Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach for the Women’s Australian National Outback 2017 Team & writes blogs for Firstdown Playbook. 

In July 2016, he was named to the Hudl 100 list. He has presented at IAPHERD, the top physical education convention in Illinois, on how to get students moving with his Games Galore presentations. He has also presented at the Chicago Glazier Clinics on quarterbacks & special teams. He was the Defensive Coordinator for the 2010 U.S. Women’s National Tackle Football Team, winners of the IFAF Women’s World Championship in which Team USA did not allow a point in three games with an overall score of 201-0. Stone has coached in the CIFL and the IWFL Leagues as well as Beloit College (Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator) and Rockford University (Quarterbacks/Wide Receivers). 

Stone has also coached football at the youth, middle school and high school level. He will be putting on fundamental youth football camps around the world in 2017.  Please contact him to bring his “Back to the Basics Youth Football Camp” to a city near you.

Follow him on Twitter @Coach_Stone_MT.