For a lot of teams, the season is just getting underway. You’ve probably played a game or two, maybe more, and your performance falls into one of three categories.
- You were good, but there’s room for improvement.
- You were okay and need to improve in several areas.
- You were horrible and need to get better fast.
Regardless of the category, improvement is crucial and will be for the rest of the season. There are two kinds of improvement – individual and team – and coaches need to focus on both equally.
So let’s look at some ways to create an environment for improvement within your team.
- Give an Honest Assessment: Let your team in on what you are seeing. Young players are generally pretty good about accepting challenges and are open to the coach’s help in ways to eliminate weaknesses. Part of the solution may be everyone improving in some area of the game. Encourage them to help each other in that area. Working together to solve a problem is great for team chemistry.
- Don’t Allow Excuses and Blame: If your team wasn’t good enough, don’t reach into the pile of ready-made excuses – referees mistakes, poor playing field, no luck. Talk about things everyone can do better.
- Avoid Placing Blame: Little good can come from assigning blame to mistakes. Faulting an individual or a subset of the team leads to the team losing confidence in the player. You are better off saying, “We just weren’t good enough.”
- Explain What You Are Doing: Often during training, coaches put the team through specific exercises design to improve an area they have found to be lacking. And often, the kids don’t connect the exercise with the reason they are doing it. So tell them.
- Set Benchmarks: To help your players reach the level seen as acceptable, the path needs to be broken down into steps or benchmarks. Young players will often try to take giant leaps to the end product, leaving our important parts of the foundation. Reaching small steps is rewarding to young players and motivates them to go after the next one.
An important part of the improvement process is that neither the coach or the player should feel they are left alone to accomplish it. Using phrases like “we need to get better at …” instead of “you have to get better at …,” help the athlete understand you are there to help. Encourage your players to work in pairs or small groups away from training to help each other, instead of individually. A training partner gives players someone to push them, hold them accountable and make it more enjoyable.
The bottom line is coaches have to create an environment where players know the importance of individual and team improvement and look forward to the challenges that come with it.