I get asked for advice on how to coach kids, so I’ll share some. This will be brief.
1) Be really good at what you do.
I don’t mean that you’re a really good BJJ fighter or a really good football player. Coaching isn’t playing. Educate yourself and become an outstanding coach, even if you’re not that good a practitioner (which you should be, but anyway). Coaching, like teaching, has tried and tested methods. If you work with young children in particular, you’re going to be a huge part of their physical development. You owe it to them to constantly review your education and professional development.
2) Remember that it’s an honour to be trusted to coach children, not the other way around.
As a father, I pick and choose the people who will have a profound influence over my sons’ development with a keen eye. You know the stories about the inspirational coach who changed someone’s life? Well, they work the opposite way too. I quit a sport because of a pig ignorant slave driver coach at an age when I should have loved playing. To give you an idea of how much of an effect this had, I still have difficulty watching the game he made me hate.
3) Be a role model
Within reason of course, and I wouldn’t say this of older coaches, you should be able to mill around with them. Kids are like mirrors when you get them in a room- they reflect your mood. Be cranky, they’re going to reflect that crankiness right back at you and a vicious circle will ensue. If you’re going to have a boozy night out, it’s probably best to organise a replacement coach for the next morning. If you’re overweight, get that seen to, for you as much as them.
4) Have fun, and enjoy their company. If you don’t like kids very much, find another job
If they’re mirrors of your mood, you can use their reflective qualities to bring out some of their energy in you too. Get in and play, have fun, enjoy the energy. When you’re dragging a squad of 21 year old guys through a pre-season session after you’ve “graduated” out of the youth system, you might just find yourself wishing you were back playing a game of Scotch with some 9 year olds.
5) Be trustworthy.
Trust is a quality that takes time. In fact it takes years. We’re coaching kids for 11 years, and what divides us, by us I mean Kyuzo Gym, from others is that we’re always there, and we’re always the same. You won’t find kids waiting outside only for no coach to show up, you won’t find us in a bad mood one day, bright and shiny the next. We won’t shout, we won’t argue, we have rules and systems, and we’re consistent. This takes years. We have seen guys leave to go to college who joined us as 9 year olds. That stuff, you can’t do overnight. For me as a parent, that has greater value than 1000 gold medals or 200 certificates on a gym wall. If you have that, then I will, guardedly, choose to trust you with the thing in the world that I hold most dear, if only for an hour or two a week.
6) Check your environment
I like Bobby Robson’s quote when asked what type of player he looked to sign. “Don’t buy good players, buy good people”. I would paraphrase and say that my belief is that we should aim to develop good people, and that the good players will follow. Winning is great, but sport for kids is about developing them into the adults they will become. If you’re interested in dragging gold medals out of children for the glory of your team, find another job. Actually, you won’t have to. There will be countless parents queuing up outside who are interested in dragging gold medals out of their children for their own glory. And you are very welcome to deal with them, because I don’t want to.
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