The Responsibility of the Youth Coach
Updated: Jan 31
In the past two years, I have the privilege of working with around 200 different athletes in some capacity. These kids all ranged from 5 years old to 18 years old, and from barely coordinated to Division 1 recruit. And one thing drives me nuts that I find myself having to tip toe around.
Strength coaches are not shy to talk about the issues surrounding high school weight rooms. It seems like every high school, and now increasing numbers of middle schools, are emphasizing the weight room for their student athletes. But in doing so, there is a lot of issues that happen when you rush to staff a weight room and realize that you don't have someone qualified to run it. Kids health is being put at stake, and those of us coaches who work in the field of Strength and Conditioning are often vocal about this.
This is also is not just a high school issue, because as of recent I have realized there are plenty of private sector coaches that are no better at coaching the weight room than a math teacher. The problem is sometimes not even about programming but how things are taught, and with something I feel like not enough coaches remember:
Kids hang on every single word you say and treat your opinions like fact.
Kids, regardless of their respect levels, often treat what a coach says as the ultimate authority for a topic. This sponge-like mindset can be a good thing, but to unconsciously misuse that trust can be detrimental to the young athlete's success.
This isn't to harp on anyone, but a call to think more deeply about what we say, do, and how we teach the next generation. When you become more aware of the way kids blindly follow your word, you must assume the responsibility for that word. Your responsibility becomes to fact check yourself, and do your homework on what you're teaching. As youth coaches, we need to be constantly staying on top of this.
Here's a way to think to about it.
Imagine you're driving your team to a big Friday Night Game that's a significant drive away. You've been driving for several hours, going off your memory on how to get there. But after a couple hours of driving things have been seeming a bit less familiar, to you pull out your phone to check for directions. And to your dismay, you've been traveling for hours in the wrong direction! Now what? You turn around and head back, but by the time you show up to the other school to play, the lights are off and everyone has left. You missed the game entirely because you forgot to make sure you were going the right way from the start! You take the L as a team, even though it was your responsibility to make sure you got there on time.
Obviously this is an extreme example, but I want you to see how easy it is to make that simple change if you do so from the start. I am guilty of being the one who didn't fact check the stuff I was saying once when giving advice for the gym, and when a year later I found out I was wrong, the person got mad I lead them astray for so long (and I don't blame them for that).
I mention this, because having an understanding of how people (especially young athletes) hang on your opinion and knowledge can play a large part in the direction their life goes. If we aren't fact checking ourselves and working to increase our knowledge to fill the areas where we have our biggest holes, then we could lead someone astray for some time. And ultimately, how sad will it be that our legacy lives on as the one who lead people in the wrong direction.