Parents often have unrealistic expectations of youth sport coaches. After all, most youth sport coaches are volunteer coaches who are only coaching because their sons or daughters are playing the sport. However, this should not provide an excuse for volunteer coaches to lack, enthusiasm, preparation and at least some measure of expertise.
An often-used statement I use is that "Practice is the coaches' time to shine, whereas, games are players time to shine." For this to happen, it is necessary that youth sport coaches know how to run practices that are vibrant, informative and fun. With that in mind, running a great youth sport practice includes three main ingredients – organization, activity, and teaching. One without the others leads to either wasted time, bored kids and missed teaching opportunities. Coaches should map out their practices so that there is little wasted time. Preseason practices should cover every important aspect of the sport appropriate for the age of the player. In the regular season, coaches can focus their practice time to cover parts of the game most needed, based on their team game results and weaknesses.
Following are other tips on how to run a great youth sports practice:
Good coaches should:
1. Start practice on time — parents who bring their child late will get the message early in the season that their kids will be missing some quality information and skill work. Of course, it is necessary that coaches arrive early to have all equipment set up in order to begin on time.
2. Teach during warm-up time — it is vital that coaches instruct even during warm-ups so there is no wasted teaching opportunities. Often, warm-up time is when players perform the greatest amount of skill work.
3. Consider player safety at all times and teach players how to set up and practice in safe ways. This is necessary so a coach's time is not spent dealing with unnecessary injuries. Good coaches also explain how to use safety equipment for the particular sport.
4. Use assistant coaches and interested parents for various skill stations so players remain active. This is also the key to avoid player boredom.
5. Keep stations short when possible and cover as many aspects of the sport as time allows each practice.
6. Change the pattern by working on different skills and game situations in a different order each practice.
7. Use competition, contests and game play, when players appear bored and especially at the end of practices when kids usually get tired.
8. Have rewards for hard working "practice players" and not just star game players. Meaningful but inexpensive rewards for best defensive, offensive and hustle player(s) of each practice will help motivate players at practice because all kids like to win rewards.
9. Reenact game plays or practice plays until performed correctly. Although this can seem monotonous to young players, it is necessary to stress the importance of doing things correctly.
10. Provide equal attention to each player and not just to the best, worst, or your own son or daughter.
11. Give homework of the things you would like players to practice before returning the next time.
12. Avoid long, drawn out talks — short talks and demonstrations are best.
By using the above tips and by teaching the game positively and enthusiastically, the "having fun" part of sport for kids will take care of itself.
Jack Perconte played 12 years of professional baseball. After retiring from professional baseball in 1987, Perconte opened a baseball training academy in Naperville, Ill. The hitting drills, mental training and coaching tips found in "The Making of a Hitter" (www.jackperconte.com) were culled from the 60,000 hitting lessons Perconte estimates he gave while operating the academy. He has also written "Raising an Athlete," and writes for the blog Positive Parenting in Sports at www.jackperconte.com.