A lot of people say "Coaching is teaching."


Part of coaching is teaching, but only a small part. The more accurate statement is "Coaching is parenting."

If I said, "Parenting is teaching" to an experienced parent, they would probably say exactly what I just said about coaching—that teaching is a part of parenting, but only a small part. What parents do, or should do, and coaches should emulate, is setting appropriate goals, showing how to meet them, and insisting that they be met.

What are some of the goals parents must set for their kids and how do parents achieve those goals?

Behavior that is safe and healthy

Parents must teach their kids how to live in a healthy and safe manner. For example, children must eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, buckle up, and get eight hours a night of sleep. Do parents teach those behaviors? Yes. But teaching alone sure as heck is not enough. They must insist on those things or they will not happen.

Get an education

So it is with the low line charge and correct tackling technique. Your players do not want to bear crawl on the defensive line any more than they want to do their homework. But they must do both and it is your job as coach or parent to show them how, and just as importantly, to insist that they do it correctly.

Respect the rights of others

As a parent, you would not let your kids vandalize other people's property or disturb the neighbors with loud noises. You would teach them the right thing, but the main way in which you would achieve the goal of stopping your children from infringing on the rights of other people would not be teaching, it would be insisting and punishing deviations from correct behavior.

So it is with a team sport. In football, everyone has to depend on everyone else. Accordingly, everyone must do what they are supposed to do or the whole team suffers. Everyone on a football team works hard. But all that work can be nullified by one player who does his own thing rather than his assigned job. It is part of the coaching job description to teach the right behavior, but also to insist on that behavior and punish players who deviate from it. That is a duty you owe to everyone on the team, including the misbehaving player. South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said, "Discipline is not something you do to someone. It is something you do for someone." Every parent understands that in the context of raising their children, but most youth coaches are reluctant to discipline in the context of coaching.

Can't coach like Mr. Rogers

Most youth coaches are trying to mimic Mr. Rogers in order to be considered a nice guy by the parents. In fact, Mr. Rogers exhibits a one-dimensional approach to children which works just fine on a scripted TV show, but which would leave critical gaps were it the only approach used by parents or coaches. Mr. Rogers' main goal is to get viewers—both parents and kids—to like him. Real parents and coaches must have additional goals, some of which are not popular with the children. If Mr. Rogers moved into your house and started to raise your children, either he would reveal additional facets of his approach to kids not seen on TV, or you would have to complement his “nice cop” routine with a “tough cop” act of your own. The typical kid left in Mr. Rogers' care 24 hours a day would eat Mr. Rogers alive if his only trick was niceness.

Most football skills can be achieved with just teaching and a few repetitions. Many require a large number of reps, like snapping, passing, and option pitches. A few, like the low defensive line charge and correct tackling technique, are as unpopular with the players as cleaning their room or doing the dishes. Accordingly, those habits require the same parental behavior as room cleaning: instruction on how to do it, monitoring to make sure it is done correctly, and when he does not do the right thing, punishment that is strong enough to convince the kid that doing it right is more fun than doing it wrong.

Patience and support

When your own kids screw up, you don't put them up for adoption and you don't denounce them as hopelessly defective in some way. You recognize that kids are immature and inexperienced and impulsive and all that. You are more patient with them than you would be would a grown-up stranger. You are patient with your kids and you continue to support them in spite of both their unintentional and intentional foul-ups. As a coach, you have to be the same with other people's kids.

I am not saying kids can do no wrong. At the teenage level, some players will deliberately disrupt the team and misbehave to an unacceptable degree such that the only thing a coach can ultimately do is throw them off the team. In many cases, this is the player's goal. Many teenagers use that sort of behavior to get attention. The parents of the kid in question have more ways to influence him. Coaches have limited influence over a player. Coaches also have a responsibility to the other members of the team to get on with the team's reason for existing, which is not the abnormal attention needs of the misbehaving player.

How is a coach supposed to act?

Too many youth coaches come into coaching walking on eggs because they believe they are in unfamiliar territory. They know how to be parents, but they figure this coaching stuff is different and they are not sure exactly how to act.

They try to accomplish the task by putting together a collage of cliches they've heard on TV and in their playing days, generic drills that may or may not be related to anything they want their team to do in games, conditioning that is designed first and foremost to cause pain, and full-speed hitting. This is frequently administered in a psychologically-correct Mr. Rogers-like tone in the hopes that the non-coaching parents will say to each other regarding the coach, “He's so good with children.” Other youth coaches try to affect a Vince Lombardi or Bill Walsh demeanor.

The proper approach is to regard your players as temporary foster children. Treat them as you do your natural children—with love and patience—but also to hold them to appropriate standards. That means they need to be taught, but also disciplined. Just as you would require foster children to brush their teeth and do their homework, so must you insist that your players learn their assignments and use proper technique.

Stop trying to be somebody you saw on TV or remember from your high-school playing days. All you have to do on the practice and game fields is what you already do every day at home: be a good parent.

Best wishes,

John T. Reed