The Importance of Coaches Modeling Positive Behaviors to Kids
Ask any adult who has ever played youth/interscholastic sports about the people who most influenced their lives in positive ways and you will almost always hear the name of a former coach. No, the long days and hard practices weren’t always fun, but through those experiences coaches teach kids countless life skills, including motivation, perseverance, communication, resiliency, and team building skills. While it may only be a few lucky kids who grow up to play college/professional sports, countless numbers of kids have moved on to experience successful lives, largely due to the guidance provided to them through their coaches. So what exactly makes a great coach, and what should today’s coaches model to ensure future generations of kids fully benefit from sport participation?
Kids model what they see form the coach
What coaches say is one thing, but what coaches actually do is a much bigger thing as it applies to child development through sports. For example, it’s one thing to say you run a clean program based on integrity, but does your program actually reflect those values? If you truly value effort, do you reward those kids who regularly display effort — even if they are not the most talented athletes? Below are a few more important qualities to exemplify if the goal is to develop kids as better people, not just athletes:
- Model humility. Critics argue that the sportsmanship previously witnessed in sports has been replaced today by showboating, taunting, arrogance, and an overall feeling of “look at me” when I make a play. Of course, kids see all of this, and many of these very same behaviors have over time trickled down to youth and interscholastic sports. In response to these trends, coaches can hold themselves accountable for modeling humility and holding kids accountable for doing the same through their on-field behaviors.
- Refrain from making excuses. Save the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” excuses and own your tough days and losses. Rather than finger-pointing, be the first one to step up and own the experience and tell your team you expect them to do the same. Building up resiliency will take kids farther in life than teaching them how to skirt responsibility and blame others for their tough days.
- Respect the opponent. Pay close attention to how your kids are treating opponents, not just on the field but also through social media. Are their behaviors in line with what you expect? Are you yourself modeling behaviors that consistently prioritize sportsmanship, integrity, and respect? And don’t forget the officials — while you may not always like the calls they make, it’s important that kids see you treat them with respect, too.
- Maintain team policies and expectations. What are the goals you have for your team, and are your kids aware of these goals? Do kids know your team rules, and the consequences form breaking those rules? Are your expectations visibly posted in the locker room, team webpage, and other strategic spots for kids to regularly be reminded of as they participate as a member of the team?
- Enforce rules. Granted, enforcing team rules isn’t the most fun part about coaching, but it is absolutely necessary if the goal is to hold kids accountable and strengthen team cohesion. Provide clear communication about your expectations and be realistic with rules — but be sure to follow through on consequences when necessary. When kids see that there are not “special” rules for stars and that they will all be treated equally and fairly, team cohesion almost always improves as a result.
Being an average coach is easy, but being a true role model coach for kids to benefit from for the rest of their lives requires going above and beyond the call of duty. Staying humble, steering away from excuses, displaying respect, and maintaining team rules are just a few examples of behaviors that not only help kids develop in healthy and positive ways, but also provide for the best chances of strong team development and success on the field.