Let me set the scene for you. We had signed Jono up to play J8 Rippa Rugby, which in the North Harbour Union is as grass-roots as you can get. Under-6 year olds playing a sport for the first time in most of their lives. We’ve arrived at the club for Muster, to get our teams assigned and meet the coach for the first time. Jono gets called into his team and I wander over with him to our allocated space. The next thing I hear is:
“Ok, so one of you needs to be the coach, and one of you needs to be the manager.”
Wait, back up the bus, what did you just say? Parents look at each other frantically. My brain kicks into overdrive. “Could I coach? Can I get away from work on time? What if I suck? I don’t want the sporting future of these kids to rest on my shoulders do I?” as it turned out while I was having my own internal debate on the pros and cons of coaching the team, somebody else had stepped up. Saved! Or was I…
As we were leaving the club I caught wind of rumours that the teams were over-subscribed. That there might need to be another team put together to ensure the kids got enough game time. As we drove home I mulled it over. It wouldn’t be that bad would it? I mean, they are only 4 and 5. By the time we’d gotten home I had come to my decision – if they were desperately looking for another coach, I was their man. As it turned out they were, and I wondered whether the eager response and gratitude were a sign of horrors to come.
I needn’t have worried. Coaching is fun. Coaching is incredibly rewarding. It’s not always easy. It isn’t glamorous. It takes time and thought. But it’s one of the best things I’ve done in my 5 years of parenting to date.
It isn’t for everyone though. Here is my big 5 rules to think through before you take the leap yourself.
1. You are there for the kids.
As simple as this sounds, its easy to forget. You think your there helping the club out. You want to please the other parents in the team. You want to win and succeed.
The only reason you put your hand up to coach under-6 year olds is to make it a fun and memorable experience. For the most-part these children are giving it a go for the first time. If they don’t have fun, if they feel like they aren’t progressing, if their parents have to drag them to games and training then you probably won’t see them again next season. They will be off trying out some other sport. Which means that you’ve lost them from the rest of your junior program, you’ve lost them for school teams, you’ve lost them from senior programs and you sure as hell have lost them for the All Blacks.
I would contest that not one All Black was taught a skill, technique or mindset that got them to higher honours in their first year. But you sure can loose them.
Have fun with them, play games, teach them some fundamentals, laugh and enjoy it. It isn’t going to get easier on them as they progress, so don’t make it hard for them to start!
2. You can’t worry about what anybody else thinks.
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with No.1. You are going to meet people from all walks of life, with kids that have wildly varying levels of confidence, maturity, skill, experience and desire. Like their kids, the parents will all want very different things for their kids. This is fine. This is life. What you can’t allow is for that to influence what you do and how you go about it.
Further to this, if you are going to fully commit to rule No.1 (and I’m not getting ahead of myself, Commit to it fully is rule No.5) you have to be willing to look like crazy lunatic on the training pitch or game field once in a while. Or every week if you are like me.
3. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
It’s an age-old adage, but nothing could be more true when it comes to coaching kids at this age. It takes time. It takes energy. It’s probably going to dip into your bank balance a little bit.
You need to know what you want to do and why you want to do it in each and every training session or game. Where I’ve not been fully prepared for a training session chaos ensues. Sometimes it happens anyways. But if you haven’t prepared yourself for what you are about to do those kids will eat you alive.
It goes beyond just being mentally prepared though. If you are like me and a first-time coach then you better get your A into G and start researching. Read the rule book for your sport of choice. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s completely overlooked by most people I’ve come across. It’s especially important because the Under-6 version of the game probably differs significantly from the one you played yourself or watch on TV.
Talk to kids that have moved on and ask them what drills they did, and more importantly, enjoyed. I got some of my best material by doing this.
Google is your friend. There is so much material out there. Adapt it to your particular style and needs – you don’t need to start from scratch.
Don’t just rock up and try to wing it from day one.
It might work, but probably not.
4. You set the tone.
This is true for both the kids and the parents.
As the coach of the team you are the one that will be demanding/encouraging things from the kids out on that field. There need to be recurring messages that come up in your training sessions, themes that repeat until it becomes second nature and the team do it without really realising it. When I’m out there on that field I’ve noticed that the boys respond to my actions as much as they do to my words. If they are chasing back in defence and look like giving up, it’s not me encouraging them to keep running that gets them going again, it’s the fact that I’m right there beside them when I say (yell) it.
If I’m yelling from a gentle trot 20 meters behind them it just doesn’t work – I need to make the effort to keep up with them and urge them on.
The same goes for the parents. Be clear in your expectations. Act as you expect them to act. Don’t be afraid to call out things that don’t meet the expectations that you have set.
5. Commit to it fully.
I left this to last, but it’s just as important as No.1. There are literally hundreds of ways that you need to do this. You can go as far as you want with it, but the key is to commit in everything you do. Don’t start something unless you plan to go through with it. Don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep.
If you try to half-ass it with them you will get a half-assed response.
For me committing fully meant a few things. For starters I needed to make sure my communication game was switched on – 2 emails weekly to the team, Facebook group setup and active, talking to the club about issues or queries. I needed to get myself into coach-mode, which meant buying a serious whistle and some boots. It meant making arrangements to be out of work early every Wednesday so that I could guarantee getting to the grounds in time to be set up and ready to go as the team arrived. It meant being up at 5am on Game Days to make sure water bottles were filled, weather reports checked, Jono up, dressed and fed, dragging Kerryn (and now Natalie) out into the car and getting to the grounds early to make sure we were set up and ready to go come 8:30 kick off. It meant agonising over awards and trying to pick between my budding crop of superstars that put in so much effort every week. It meant I was on that field every week in the rain, in the frost and, thankfully, for the most part in the sun.
Whatever it means to you, make the effort and you will be rewarded with engaged, involved parents and children which makes the whole process so much easier!
I have enjoyed coaching thoroughly. There have been tears, there have been tantrums, there have been uncomfortable periods. There are things I’d do differently, but that shouldn’t be a surprise, I’m learning as I go, just like the kids are! If I’m up to the task, if I have the confidence of my team and the club, I’ll keep doing it next year – the rewards have been worth it. 4 games to go and I’m frankly a bit worried about how I’m going to cope with the season coming to an end.
Just remember rule No.1.
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