The Problem Coaches

By Lisa McCoy

Here it comes again—another youth-sports season approaching quickly! I keep telling myself that this year will be better than the last. When I first started working with youth-sports coaches, I took the opportunity to share ideas and build important community relationships. But, as the years have gone by, I’ve noticed a shift in behavior and attitudes. In pondering these obstacles within my department, community, and society, I realize that recreation professionals need to adapt to these changes as they are the “new normal.” My experience with the “new normal” is the lack of respect I observe from coaches, parents, and kids.

© Can Stock Photo/14624502

© Can Stock Photo/14624502

In discussing my concerns with other recreation professionals, I was surprised to find they felt the same way. Many shared similar stories, experiences, and encounters. Once I identified the frustrations and understood them, I came to the conclusion that I needed to make some changes within my department in order to continue along a positive career path. After all, doesn’t everyone strive for a successful program with minimal stress?

Youth-sports coaches are a vital part of the equation. Many of them are parent volunteers coaching their child’s team for the season. Recreation departments count on these volunteers to help maintain a positive and safe environment; it is our responsibility as professionals to make sure coaches are trained and educated to do just that.

The perfect coach will have some basic skills:

  • Working with parents

  • Teaching good sportsmanship

  • Building confidence

  • Practicing safety and good nutrition

  • Teaching fundamental skills.

Some may feel coach meetings and trainings are a waste of time. The big question is how do we change that mindset and encourage coaches to support an organization as if it is their own?

Coaching Expectations
Besides concussion training and codes of conduct that are traditionally part of coach trainings, what other expectations do you have? This is a question to ask before planning for a season. What do you want coaches to know about the organization? It starts with you—the administration. You want coaches to be coachable, and you want them to be the best coaches they can be. Then get them involved in the planning process! As a former teacher, I always took that “problem” child from a negative situation and gave him or her a positive lead role. Do the same with your “problem” coaches.

Forming Committees
Once coaches are assigned to teams, you can begin building a strong program. Start with coaches who stand out and share your mission and youth-sports philosophy. These coaches are the best support system. Yes, you may have to give that “problem” coach a seat on one of the committees, but the outcome will be in your favor. Remember to give that person a positive lead role. Coaches want to be involved and feel important, and if you invite them to help form rules and regulations, it will only benefit you as an administrator.

Every establishment has different needs. Having chosen an obstacle you are faced with, form a committee to help make that obstacle tolerable. You can form more than one committee if necessary. Decide how many coaches you want to work with, hand out positive lead roles, and get started.

For example, a rules committee can be formed for each age group or similar leagues. Invite coaches to be part of the committee and discuss how the program can be improved to reach each child developmentally in that age group. What is the best way kids can be taught? Make those changes to the league. Have coaches help you design important information, drills, and concepts that coaches will want to learn; after all, even the best coaches can learn a thing or two. If necessary, form two committees for this topic, such as a younger age group and an older age group. Because boys and girls learn differently, you can have gender-specific clinics. In this way, groups are smaller, and the outcome can be more valuable. The information provided to age-specific or gender-specific groups will be received better.

During these meetings, coaches are not only helping solve youth-sports obstacles, but you have an opportunity to teach them how to organize, lead by example, respect others, handle disputes both on and off the field, argue constructively, take ownership, and be accountable for their actions.

Involve coaches in whatever ways fit your program needs. There is no right or wrong way to include them in the process. Each organization is unique, and therefore committees should be formed with improvement of the league being the driving force.

We Can All Agree
Sports leagues need volunteer coaches, and there will always be that “problem” coach. Administrators need to be creative in how coaches are trained to be supportive and positive role models for youth. Make youth-sports coaching relationships great again by allowing coaches to get involved in the planning process, which will be a benefit not only to the department, the community, and society but to the athletes.

Lisa McCoy, CPRP, CYSA, is a Recreation Specialist for Independence Township Parks, Recreation & Seniors in Michigan. Reach her at