Things I Wish I Knew as a Young Coach

When I started teaching camps for UCA the summer after high school I was leaving an All*Star team that I had won back to back NCA and UCA titles with and just made the Wildcat squad, now known as the Blue squad, at the University of Kentucky. I thought I knew a thing or two about cheerleading, and I probably did from a participant point of view, but I didn’t know anything about being a teacher. Fortunately I was given a very important tip by my first head instructor.

It’s not about what you can do, it’s all about what you can get these kids to do.

That head instructor was Les Stella and that tip made me realize my role had changed. It was no longer about me and was all about the kids. That was, and still is, the first step in becoming a good coach. Nowadays, if I’m put in the position to talk to young coaches and instructors I let them know that and there 5 additional things I tell them that I wish I knew when I was getting started:

  1. Kids won’t do anything for you until they think you care about them. Once they know you care about them they will do anything for you. This is incredibly true for little kids, but applies to kids of all ages.
  2. Don’t say too much at once. Athletes are limited in the number of things they can focus on while executing a skill, so don’t tell them so much as to exceed that limit. I think the limit is 3 things, so I try not to give athletes more than 2 things to think about when teaching, and when I can I limit it to 1.
  3. Say what to do instead of saying what not to do. The only things you want in their head are the things they need to do. If you tell an athlete “Don’t throw your head back” it will turn into “throw your head back” by the time they try the skill. You’ll get better results by making your athletes think about the Do’s instead of the Don’ts.
  4. You are going to get sued. If that scares you stop now. If that doesn’t scare you get in the habit of keeping good documentation so you win when you get sued. I may have overstated the likelihood of you getting sued, but I can’t overstate the importance of keeping good documentation of the progression of you kids.
  5. At the end of your coaching career if you look back and realize you have only taught your kids how to stunt, tumble, basket, pyramid, and dance, you have failed them as a coach. As a coach you need to be a mentor and a role model and teach your kids more than the skills they perform on the mat. If you don’t, you have failed.

What do you wish you were told as a young coach and what do you tell young coaches?