Coach Children


Want a great exercise to improve your communication skills?  Coach children in sports or academics

I’ve done both and each taught me different (and valuable) communication lessons and skills. It also reinforces the lesson that sometimes properly explaining a task can be even harder than doing the task.

Coaching sports adds an interesting dimension not often found in academic tutoring. Games are typically fast paced and with their own special, exciting chaos. That can make it fun. It also requires great communication. The clock is ticking and the fans (including parents) are usually screaming. In other words, a lot of distractions.

Just as many people struggle to communicate effectively, not everyone is emotionally equipped to coach. I’ve seen coaches and parents get furious at small children, even in the “no score kept, this is how the game is played” instructional leagues. In both these games and in communication, self-esteem and how we control and understand our emotions is critical to success.

I coached youth basketball for a number of years. My first three years were rough. And my fault. For example, during time-outs, I gave too many instructions for the kids to remember. So they usually forgot them all. We also practiced so many different plays it made the plays difficult to remember during a game.

After three years I was no longer going to coach. I felt I had done enough damage. However, the league was short on coaches and so I agreed to coach again. I also decided I needed to change how I coached. You know, for the children. 

So I started over from scratch. I simplified, I planned the season and each practice in advance. I learned to add more repetition in practice to reinforce lessons. I learned to make the plans simple, then spend the rest of the season learning to do it well. Time-outs had clear instructions, even if they seemed contradictory as a whole, they were clear to each player. 

Undefeated season on the line, down by 1 point with 2 seconds to play and our leading scorer going to the free throw line for 1 plus 1 (if he makes the first shot to tie, we at least get an overtime and he gets a second shot, which if made likely wins the game). 

I called time-out. I told my leading scorer, “Don’t worry, you’ll make it, just relax.” I then turned to the rest of the team and said, “Okay, here is what we do if he misses….” 

Contradictory?  Maybe. But not for each individual’s role on the team. They each needed their own specific encouragement and plan that was clear and uncomplicated.

Just like practicing and playing sports, communication is a skill that can be improved through practice, considering results and, well, having some fun along the way.

P.S.   So, how did the game turn out?  The leading scorer missed the first shot. A teammate grabbed the rebound and put up a shot. The buzzer sounded with the ball in the air, then nothing but net. Two points, game won, undefeated season saved. Was it good communication, good luck or great effort?  I like to think of it as a little of all, a combination that leads to success when all are present.


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.