Coaching a new sport can be overwhelming. As lacrosse explodes into new geographic areas and permeates the youth sports scene, the demand for qualified coaches will continue to grow. Even if you’re new to the game, you might be asked to step in and help out. While you might not be an expert on the X’s and O’s right away, there are universal coaching principles that can empower you to succeed in this role.
We’ve partnered with Dr. Richard Ginsburg, a noted sports psychologist and member of the faculty at Harvard Medical School, to present the “Top 10 Tips for Coaching Youth.” Ginsburg, who also serves as a member of US Lacrosse’s Sports, Science and Safety Committee, challenges coaches to examine what they love about the game and to consider what inspires them to coach. He also encourages coaches to reframe their definition of success—with outcomes ranging from winning to having fun, from skill improvement to learning sportsmanship.
Using age-appropriate methods and understanding the developmental differences in youth of various ages and gender will help you, the new (or experienced) lacrosse coach, prevent injury and promote positive cognitive and motor development.
Here are Dr. Ginsburg’s 10 tips for coaching youth lacrosse players, and youth athletes in general. For more on each of these principles, check back as we discuss one per day for the next two weeks.
1. Fun is essential.
Studies have shown a strong correlation between enjoyment of the activity and participation longevity. Kids remain active in a sport if they are having fun. Performance also improves when participants enjoy playing the game. (Tuesday, Sept. 23)
2. Teach sportsmanship early.
Coaches must seize the opportunity to impart good values (integrity, respect, compassion, etc.) and to model good behavior. (Wednesday, Sept. 24)
3. Remember that kids are not mini-adults.
Kids are a work in progress and must be treated and coached differently than adult participants. (Thursday, Sept. 25)
4. Design age-appropriate practices.
Coaches should consider the physical, psychological and cognitive abilities of youth players when developing practice plans. Drills and plays should use the appropriate complexity, based on the age of the players. Coaches should be organized in order to minimize the amount of time spent standing around during practice. (Friday, Sept. 26)
5. Define success appropriately for each age group.
For pre-kindergarten and kindergarten aged kids, the primary focus should be on having fun and safe activity that provides kids with joy of movement. Among elementary school aged youth, the emphasis should evolve into developing skill competencies and building friendships. With middle school and high school players, defining identity and recognizing their individual strengths and weaknesses becomes part of the equation. (Monday, Sept. 29)
6. Provide positive feedback.
Coaches are encouraged to give accurate praise. Research shows that a ratio of at least 5:1 between positive and negative feedback is needed. (Tuesday, Sept. 30)
7. Save specialization for older kids.
Research shows that 10,000 hours of activity are necessary to move a person’s skill set to a significantly upgraded level. Is that the kind of commitment a younger player should be making to the game? The motivation to participate must be intrinsic. (Wednesday, Oct. 1)
8. Avoid over-training.
Ginsburg stresses that youth play just one sport per season and have at least 1-2 days off per week. He also encourages that kids have extended time off; preferably a break of at least two or three months from the game. He also cautions against a dramatic increase in training levels to minimize the risk of injury from overuse. (Thursday, Oct. 2)
9. Use appropriate equipment.
Avoid ill-fitting hand-me-down equipment, primarily safety equipment like helmets and shoulder pads. Make sure it’s a good fit. (Friday, Oct. 3)
10. Avoid “playing up.”
The temptation is to move kids into older age groupings based on skill level or physical development. But Ginsburg says there is a benefit to being the best player on the team. It helps develop other abilities, like leadership skills and patience. There could also be injury risks and risks of social alienation for players who are moved up the chain. (Monday, Oct. 6)
No matter how you apply these principles, find a way to share your love of the game with your youth players. Remember to define success appropriately—whether it’s winning, having fun, skill improvement, learning sportsmanship, or something else.