Selecting a coach for your child
Jeff Mitchell – Community Coach Advisor – Sport Auckland / GACU
Parents are often confused by what they should look at in a potential coach. Is the best coach the one that wins the most? What about the coach that has played internationally? What is actually required to coach effectively? In this article I will discuss what parents should look for when assessing the suitability of a coach. For this article we will focus on coaches of children and youth (up to mid-teens). In a future article I will discuss how coaches can develop their abilities so that they meet these criteria.
Every coach has their own personality, and there is no one “correct” way to coach. There are certain qualities, however, that all quality coaches share. I will discuss here what some of these qualities are and why you should look for a coach that shows these traits.
It is important to know what you are looking for from a coach. The focus for players in these age groups should be participation (developing a life-long love for their sport), skill development and enjoyment. Good coaches understand that the competitive, performance aspects can be emphasised as the players get older. A quality coach, therefore, will be one that helps players to develop their skills while fostering a love for the game.
There are three broad areas you should look at when you are deciding whether to use a specific coach. These areas are:
Let’s look at the desired qualities of an effective coach within each of these areas.
1. Who they are
Coaching involves a relationship between the coach and their athletes. The quality of the coach’s character will have a large impact on how they interact with their athletes. There are a few areas of who a coach is that you need to take into consideration:
A coach’s philosophy will guide how they coach and the decisions that they make. A coach should be able to articulate their philosophy to you so that you understand how they will coach your child. Their philosophy should be based on an athlete-centred approach, where they place the needs of the athlete above their own needs. This can be seen from a coach that looks to develop the skill level of all of their athletes, rather than focusing on winning each game.
It is important that a coach’s philosophy is in agreement with your values and how you feel children should be coached. Some aspects of a coach’s philosophy that you should look for include:
- an emphasis on fair play;
- a focus on each athlete (not just the stars);
- having winning in perspective; and
- a concern with learning and development.
The best coaches are those that are continuously learning. There is always more to know about player development and how to coach effectively. A serious coach is always trying to stay current. Be wary of a coach who feels that they know it all; if they aren’t prepared to keep learning themselves, how can you expect them to help your child to keep learning? You want a coach with a growth mindset who will work to instill the same mindset in your child.
Coaches are role models – whether they like it or not. Your child will learn a lot from how their coach acts and behaves. Look for a coach that understands the role that they have and models appropriate behviours. Some of the things you should look for include:
- their appearance – do they dress appropriately and look like a coach?
- their behaviours – are they consistent with their stated values?
- their punctuality, and
- how they communicate.
Remember that your child will be picking up a lot from how their coach behaves. Make sure that the coach you select is modelling the behaviours you would like to see in your own child.
2. What they have done
It is important to understand the background of a coach when deciding whether to have your child coached by them. Don’t be fooled into looking for coaches with ‘winning records’; at this age the ability to coach a winning team is less important than the ability to develop the athletes that are being coached. You should pay less attention to a coaches win record and more to their experience and qualifications.
There is no doubt that coaching is something that you get better at the more you do it. For this to occur the coach needs to take a proactive approach to their development, allowing them to learn from their experience. Ideally a coach will have a wealth of experience coaching your sport. Some other areas you may want to take into consideration include their experience of:
- working with players at this age group;
- working with players of this skill level; and
- coaching in general.
While experience is generally a case of “more is better”, it is important that the experience is relevant to the age group that they are currently coaching. Often – although not always – a coach that is highly experienced in coaching elite athletes will not be very good at coaching young children. Look for a coach that has experience coaching athletes similar to your child.
Make sure that the coach is qualified to coach your sport. While it is true that a qualification course does not guarantee that someone is actually a good coach, any coach that is serious about what they are doing will have attended the relevant qualification courses. At a minimum they should have an entry-level qualification for your sport and a current first aid certificate. Coaching theories and techniques are constantly evolving, so make sure that the coach is current. If a coach is not prepared to upskill themselves and learn about their craft, then they do not take their role seriously enough to be coaching your child.
3. How they coach
Coaching involves an interaction between a coach and their athletes. You want to ensure that the coach that you choose is able to coach effectively. There is a huge range of areas of coaching that you could look at, however, two stand out: preparation and communication.
A coach will be much more effective if they turn up to each training session prepared. This means that a coach should have a written plan for each session that they deliver. This ensures that they have thought through what they will cover during the session, and that they have taken the needs of their athletes into consideration. If a coach is getting by by “winging it” then they are not putting enough effort into their coaching role. Make sure that the coach of your child is putting enough time into their preparation to ensure that their sessions are effective.
Part of being prepared involves planning the activities that a coach will use. When it comes to delivering the session, it is the coach’s communication that turns those plans into a reality. A coach will interact with their players through their communication, making that communication the coach’s greatest tool. You want to make sure that the communication that the coach uses is appropriate and effective.
When evaluating the communication skills of a coach you should look at the following:
- how well do they communicate with individuals and the group?
- is their communication clear and concise?
- do they maintain control of their emotions at all times?
- is their communication appropriate for the age and level of their athletes?
You want to find a coach that relates well to their athletes and is able to communicate openly and respectfully with them. A coach’s communication is their greatest tool; look for a coach that is able to use this tool wisely.
A coach has a great impact on the players that they work with. When looking for a coach for your child you want to make sure that the impact that they have will be positive. You can base this decision on who the coach is, what they have done, and how they coach. Use this as a guide to help you to find an appropriate coach for your child.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list of what you could take into consideration when assessing a coach. What do you look at? What do you think is most important? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.