Most parents of kids who play sports are familiar with the situation: 60 kids sign up for soccer, but only two coaches volunteer. If someone else doesn’t step up, 20 kids—including possibly yours—won’t get to play. You’d volunteer, of course, but you’ve never even played soccer (or whatever the sport may be). Surely someone with some experience and a deeper understanding of the game (such as the rules) will step up. And yet, they don’t. So here you are, the head coach of 20 fresh-faced soccer players.
Coaching is challenging even when you’ve got intimate knowledge of the game, but much more so when you’re faking it ‘til you make it. Here’s how to actually make it.
Get an assistant coach who knows what they’re doing
Chances are, at least one kid on your team has a parent (or an aunt or uncle, even) who has played the sport you’re now attempting to coach—they maybe just can’t make the time commitment that a head coach has to make. They might travel frequently for work or participate in another activity that will have some practice or game-day conflicts with yours. That’s OK—as the head coach, you’ll make sure to always show up, and they can join in whenever possible.
An assistant coach with a strong knowledge of the sport can help you run practices, setting up the most helpful drills to develop skills, especially in players who are new to the sport. They can also lead scrimmages so the players (and you) get a feel for the flow and rules of the game.
Get drill ideas from YouTube
If you can’t find a knowledgable assistant, YouTube can be the next best thing. Scour the site for videos from coaches and players that can teach you the most effective types of drills to run at practice. You can get pretty specific help, too, depending on where your players need to improve. Sticking with the soccer example, you can find everything from animated drills to help them learn to spread out (rather than bunch up) to dribbling exercises recorded live during a soccer academy for 12-year-olds.
These videos can teach you not just what to do, but how to explain the drills—and the reasons for them—to the kids as you go along. Sometimes getting the language down is just as important as the moves.
Scrimmage with other teams
Reach out to other coaches in your league and see if they’d like to combine practices on occasion so the kids can get some simulated game experience and you can get some tips from more experienced coaches. If practices can’t be combined because of scheduling conflicts, maybe you can shadow another coach during a couple of practices to get fresh ideas or tips. They might also have information on local coaching clinics for you to try or other resources they’ve found helpful on their own coaching journey.
Become a fan yourself
If the sport you’re coaching has a professional league that airs games on TV, it’s time to become a super fan. Your kids (probably) aren’t going to play like the pros, but listening to the commentators can help you learn the nuances of the game and get some big-picture ideas for game-time strategies. If you’re coaching a sport that isn’t widely aired on TV, chances are good that your local university has a team. Consider taking your players to a game so everyone can learn a few pointers.
Keep in mind, though, that the rules for youth sports are often different than they are at the professional, university, or even high-school level for developmental and safety reasons. Be sure to read the rule book from cover to cover. Even the refs, who often referee all different levels of a sport, can get the nuances of the rules mixed up from time to time, so you should arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.