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Better late than never

Skill Development: Youth Sports Coaches Shouldn't Expect Instant Results

Player's next coach may see fruits of his labor

Although it's baseball season, the other day my son, Alan, and his friend Quinn were shooting baskets in the driveway. As I watched them play from my office window, I realized as a coach you don't always get to see the fruits of your labors.

I was an assistant basketball coach for Alan and Quinn for five seasons until they were 10 years old. Quinn has a lot of athletic talent, but often struggles with the fundamentals - he invents his own way of doing things that sometimes work but turn a coach's hair prematurely gray.

The perfect example was that Quinn would always drive in for a layup and scoop the ball from his hip, rather than use his height as an advantage and shoot the ball from above his head. I worked tirelessly in practice to get him to shoot it from higher up. I explained that it was easier, more accurate, and less likely to get blocked. In games I'd go sit by him on the bench and explain that he did a great job of driving to the basket, but he had the shot blocked by a kid six inches shorter because he was releasing the ball at his hip. Quinn, drenched in sweat and disappointed because he didn't score, would nod his head in understanding . . . and at the next opportunity do the same darn thing.

For five seasons I worked on this one point. In the fifth season it became my pet project. He worked hard and I was relentless in calling his attention to what he'd just done; right or wrong I wanted him aware.

Finally, in the last game of the season, he did it right. He jumped with the correct foot, used his body to shield the ball from the defender, and released it above his head at the top of his jump. The ball gently bounced off the backboard and through the net. Two points!

At the team party after the game I was almost in tears describing the sense of accomplishment I had in watching Quinn do it right. Granted, I had no idea if he'd ever do it right again in his life, but, for that day, I was going to claim victory in his accomplishments.

Yesterday in the driveway, Quinn was shooting every shot correctly. He wasn't making all of them, but he'd transformed his shooting style to the correct fundamentals. I'm no longer coaching basketball, but his new coach is enjoying the fruits of all of my labors in getting him to do the fundamentals right. His coach has no idea of what we went through to get Quinn to that point.

The important thing, though, is that Quinn is now doing it right . . . I did my job. That's the way it goes in youth sports . . . I do my job and pass the kids on to the next coach.

I wonder about all of the baseball fundamentals I'm tearing out my hair about right now. Next season my baseball players might suddenly get big leads, swing aggressively at the plate, hit the cutoff man, slide at bases, pitchers will cover first on balls hit to the right side of the infield . . .

Their coach (if it isn't me) will never know the amount of antacid I've consumed this season getting them to that point. Oh well, I may not get to taste the fruit, but I can take a little pride and pleasure that I planted the seed, nurtured the tree, and got to watch it grow.

All of us, coaches, parents, officials, the league, have to realize that, ultimately we're on the same team, working together to get the kids the best youth sports experience possible.

Excerpted from the book, A Perfect Season: A Coach's Journey to Learning, Competing, and Having Fun in Youth Baseball (Quiet Path 2010) by Dan Clemens. It is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. 

A Perfect 
Season book coverDan Clemens is a leadership and communications consultant, and has been a youth coach for 9 years.  You can email him at Dan@CoachClemens.com. 

Posted March 27, 2011