Five Coaching Tips to Bring Out the Best in Young Athletes

By Jason Starr and Randall Trice


(Left to right:  Randall Trice and Jason Starr)

Editor’s Note:

Maybe you’re a coach of a youth league.  Or your kids are involved in sports and you coach them at home.  What tips really work to inspire young athletes to give their best and not grow discouraged with defeat or setbacks?  Here at Hillsides, we have two campus supervisors, Jason Starr and Randall Trice, who respectively also happen to be a former professional basketball player and a former collegiate basketball player.  The two, who also serve as Hillsides coaches/athletic directors, have created the first-ever Hillsides co-ed basketball team, the Hillsides Hawks.  Here, they give their top five tips for coaching youth:

Coaching Tip # 1: Motivate through specific clear short-term goals.  Large or general goals can be overwhelming, so we break a practice into fun, manageable goals that don’t overwhelm the players. For example, we have a drill called “hot spot shooting,” where each player picks his or her favorite spot to shoot from and we motivate them to make as many baskets as they can in a row.  Then we also total up all the shots to see how many we made as a team.

Coaching Tip # 2:  Reward attitude as much as skills.  During practice, we often give our players goals that don’t have to do with the game of basketball.  For example, we may ask our players to give a certain amount of encouragements or compliments to team members.  Or we’ll challenge the team to see who can give the most high-fives in an hour.  This is part of our effort to keep the Hawks interested and enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate on an organized team and to create an understanding between winning and success.  Success isn’t always about winning the game but how you treat your teammates and handle yourself on the court.

Coaching Tip # 3: Manage expectations. A player can have a self-expectations, team expectations, family expectations, coach expectations, and analytical (statistical) expectations that all influence a player’s performance and demeanor. If an athlete has high expectations towards challenges, it is human nature for the athlete to do whatever it takes and give a dedicated effort in meeting and exceeding that expectation.  Problem is, some players have too high expectations and feel pressured, while others have the opposite issue – too low of expectations.  Apathy can become a hindering habit.

To handle players with too-high expectations, we emphasize the fun of the sport and the mindset of “just playing,” as this takes away the pressure.  For the other type of athlete, we create a behavioral contract that we have found to be very successful. Our contract looks like this, but you can modify it to meet the needs of your players.

Hillsides Hawks Sportsmanship Contract

  • Respect and accept all official’s calls and decisions without gestures or arguments.
  • Win with dignity, lose without excuses. Have Fun
  • The good of the team always comes first.
  • Show respect for your coaches, teammates, the opposition’s coaches and players and the officials.
  • Follow all Hillsides and team rules while in the community. Apply coping skills and other behavior interventions when challenged in adverse situations.
  • Conduct yourself at all times in a manner that represents character and sportsmanship traits that are acceptable in the community.

Coaching Tip # 4:  Be careful with criticism. For a coach to establish an effective environment it is key to build genuine relationships among team and praise athletes for doing well as much as possible. One way we create a positive atmosphere even when we must give criticism is by using the “positive sandwich” method.  We start by giving praise, then give the correction/advice and end the point of instruction with positive feedback for constructive criticism.  This makes the criticism a lot easier to hear without making a player defensive or discouraged.

Coaching Tip # 5:  Emphasize the value of every player.  One individual may make a basket, but we help the players understand every basket is actually a team effort.  We will break down a play to praise and acknowledge the small details that are just as important in getting that basket.  We also stress that in basketball there are different roles.  Someone has to shoot, someone has to pass, someone has to rebound and someone has to defend.  However, one common role everyone on the team has is to recognize the value of each role and be a supportive teammate.  The value of teamwork can never be stressed enough.

-Jason Starr, a former pro basketball player, is a campus supervisor and athletic coordinator/coach at Hillsides.

-Randall Trice, former collegiate basketball player, is a campus supervisor and athletic coordinator/coach at Hillsides. 


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