11 Effective Game Day Tips Every Youth Coach Should Hear

Game day can be stressful, challenging and at the same time rewarding.

Each player feels pressure prior to the game; as a youth coach the way you approach the team, with your verbal and non-verbal communication, sets the tone.

John Wooden’s (10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA & an 88-game winning streak) approach was simple, practice well you play well. No amount of screaming will change the way players play if they are not prepared for the game.

This approach was effective for high-level college athletes but may not render the same results for a youth sports team. What is effective? What should and shouldn’t a coach do before, during, and after a game? Here are 11 effective game day coaching tips curated from our coaching community.

Game Day Tips For Coaches

Be Prepared: Make sure your team is prepared for the game mentally, physically and strategically. Nothing takes the place of preparation and it starts and ends at practice.

The game is not the time to teach: Once the game has started, the coach has very little influence over the outcome of the game. As a coach you may find this frustrating and start shouting to exert your control. Instead of shouting, take a breath, make mental notes and discuss with the athlete when they come off the field or court.

Words matter: Think about what you say and the affect it will have on the athlete. Avoid using words that are negative, demeaning or confrontational. Each interaction should build the athlete’s confidence with positive comments and instruction. Do you perform well at your job if you boss is constantly telling you what you did wrong?

Speak in short effective bursts: When Coach Wooden spoke “there were no lectures, no extended harangues. Although frequent and often in rapid-fire order, his utterances were so distinct, he rarely spoke longer than 20 seconds. “ Most kids have a limited attention span, make your point and move on.

Sideline behavior: Your behavior has a powerful affect on the players in the game and on the bench. Are you instilling confidence and trust in your players? Avoid criticisms, negative non-verbal communication such as throwing your hat, voicing your displeasure with players in the game to players on the bench. Keep it positive!

Halftime corrections: Halftime is your opportunity to makes changes and corrections. Use this time to meet as a team and effectively discuss changes in strategy and provide feedback on effort, pace of play….. If a player is struggling, pull them aside and provide constructive feedback and encouragement.   Remember, communicate in short effective bursts.

Develop players, winning is secondary: Simple concept, your job is to develop players. Winning matters but player development matters more. Don’t take the short-term win at the expense of the long-term goal of developing good athletes. This means allowing kids to work through and learn from their mistakes, they are a part of the game. Kids do not perform well if they believe they will be removed with each mistake. A win first mentality looks good in the standings, at what cost to the player?

Don’t get caught up in the moment: The game progresses very quickly and occasionally emotions run hot. As the coach/adult it is your job to remain calm and focused. Remember it is only a game, a loss is simply a loss, and it should not define you. How you act in the moment will define you in the eyes of your players and their parents.

Be objective and don’t play favorites: This is easier said than done. It is easy to connect to certain players based on skill, attitude, history… Kids are smart and they will pick up on this very quickly. Shake things up/get out of the box, your favorite or star player may have an off game, in this situation give someone else a chance. You may be surprised that someone else can have success with extra minutes or playing a different position.

Limit the post-game discussion: The post game discussion is the last place you should rehash the game. Save this discussion for practice when the kids are focused. Retention is very low at this point in time – ask the kids a couple of questions, High5 the players and call it a day. Plus the parents will appreciate a short post game discussion.

Don’t forget to have fun: 70% of athletes playing organized sports quit by the age of 13. Reason: They lose interest or no longer have fun. A handful of the kids you coach will play in high school, maybe a few will play in college but nobody will play in the WNBA, NBA, MLS, NHL, NFL, MLB……. Most kids play for the love of the sport. It is your job to keep it fun, keep it light, and keep it enjoyable.

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Joshua is married with three active children. He has experienced the good, the bad, and the politics of youth sports as a coach (12 years youth basketball coach) and a parent. All three kids have played soccer (Competitive, Development Academy, ECNL, High School) and basketball (Competitive & High School). Joshua is a co-founder at StriveFar, a marketplace connecting athletes with coaches for individual and small group training. Joshua has taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver since 2008. Joshua holds an undergraduate degree in Communication from the University of Colorado and an MBA in IT from the University of Denver.

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