It’s often too easy to get caught up in the “win-at-all-costs” mentality in youth sports. Coaches, parents and players put tremendous pressure on themselves and each other to get that big hit or win the next tournament.
We see too many examples of this mindset, from a parent who insists his daughter pitch a championship game despite extreme arm soreness to a coach who screams at a basketball player to the point of traumatization.
Is it possible to win and still maintain positive values and integrity, even at the most competitive level? Absolutely, says Steven Cournoyer, youth coach, speaker and creator of the Inspired Coach Training Academy and guidebook.
Cournoyer uses Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr as an example of getting the most out of his players without using intimidation or other negative concepts.
“He inspires his guys,” Cournoyer told TheSeason. “He says (things like) this to Stephen Curry: ‘What I love about you is, even when you’re down, you still square your shoulders, you’re taking a good shot, you’re still maintaining that confidence. Even though you’re not hitting your shots, your teammates see that.’”
Cournoyer, who has coached over 40 baseball and basketball teams from third grade to high school age, offers up six practical strategies coaches can use to create a positive team culture and still achieve their desired results.
Find out what each player’s goals are. Before even picking up a baseball bat or basketball, a coach needs every player to connect with his or her identity. To do that, Cournoyer says, you need to ask each player why they’re there. This should be done at the first team meeting.
“You’d be shocked at the answers,” Cournoyer said, citing an example of a high school basketball player who is there mainly to hang out with his buddies. “(That player) ends up being a phenomenal talent, but he’s not there to play basketball. He’s there to hang out with his buddy. That’s where character values come in. Everything I say and do has to be based with the premise that I’m going to inspire them to be the best.”
Set your own expectations from the start. Once you’ve figured out each player’s purpose, it’s important to convey your own expectations to them. Make sure you and your assistant coaches are on the same page, since they are a major part of the process.
“As the head coach, I realized I’m the one creating this whole experience,” Cournoyer explained. “This is 100% my responsibility. It takes a village. So, I’m setting those expectations with my coaches, then giving them powerful positions in the organization so they’re responsible for something, then build them up to the players.”
Hold a parents’ meeting. Cournoyer makes this a mandatory process for any team he coaches. If you want to avoid conflict with parents (what coach wouldn’t?), getting them all together helps eliminate misunderstandings that could arise. It’s also an opportunity to enlighten them on what their child’s expectations really are.
“I share with the parents what their kids’ expectations are, and they never match (the parents’),” Cournoyer said. “When I get the parents to match the expectations with the kid, the season becomes unbelievably fluid.”
Make the parents part of the team. This doesn’t mean letting them have input in coaching decisions. But they can be valuable in assisting with other important responsibilities you don’t have the time or manpower to handle, Cournoyer says. Maybe one parent is skilled in scorekeeping and recording stats, while another may have a talent for taking videos or handling social media. This not only demonstrates how you intend to motivate their child, but allows them to become part of the experience.
Include your players in the team building process. Most coaches try to persuade their players to “buy in” to a system. Instead, Cournoyer recommends letting them have a say in creating it, whether it’s deciding on a team cheer or selecting the music to use during a workout.
“When they create it, they own it,” he explained.
Use motivation, not intimidation. If you want to inspire every player to achieve their best for the good of the team, everything you say and do must revolve around inspiring them, without resorting to threats or other forms of destructive behavior.
Cournoyer’s method has given him great success on and off the field. Ultimately a positive experience for kids and parents always leads to a more positive experience for the coaching staff.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr
Looking for more coaching advice? Check out How Parents and Coaches Can Be Better Listeners.