Never be a Child’s Last Coach

Oct. 04, 2010, 10:54 a.m. (ET)

Last week at the LTAD Conference in Canada, I found it most intriguing that of the many ideas I shared, the one that resonated the strongest was the title of this blog. After my keynote speech, just about every following speaker noted it in some fashion, tying it into their own presentation.  So I thought I would dig a bit deeper into why I came up with that measure of coaching success.

I simply think one of the ways coaches need to evaluate each season is in seeing how many kids play that sport again in the following season. It is a key role of the coach to be a relationship counselor between each player and their love of the game. These athletes have chosen a very random sport, and one where every match played always has a loser on the scoreboard. So, along the way of the season you are being a sport’s coach, you need to be aware of how your teaching, line up selections, and both on and off the court actions and decisions, are impacting your athletes love of that very sport. Ask yourself- “How many of the kids YOU have coached are still involved in volleyball, how many have quit the sport?”

One of the reasons we MUST focus on this love of the game with younger players -- through the process and effort and fun parts of the game – is because of future coaches. If you give a player a real love of the sport, not only will you not be that player’s last coach, but you will have given them the passion to play past the poor coaches and adults they might encounter after they leave your tutelage.  I have no doubt that your players, as my kids have, will run into coaches who demean them, punish them, and put them down for reasons of their own coaching incompetence. If you have given them a true passion for the joy of playing, such adults cannot stop them from returning to play.

While the conference was going on, reports would be shared of how the Canadian men’s team was progressing in the FIVB Jr. World Beach Volleyball Championship.  They ended up winning the gold medal, a first for their nation. What they did not know is that two USA players on the women’s side were doing the same thing. One was a player I had the fortune to coach and guide when she was just 14 years old. Tara Roenicke’s mom wrote back in 2004 when we were selecting players for the HP Beach Volleyball Camp I was directing that She would definitely benefit!  Gotta have good coaching to get where you need to be.  We all understand that!  She just wants a shot at beginning her dream! She works hard and is extremely focused on what she wants!”  That is an understatement.  Tara went on gain her AAA beach rating (one of the youngest ever) against adults, and while still playing indoors, her love of playing volleyball was as clear as she also grew taller and stronger. Earlier this month, this passion culminated in her winning the gold medal in Turkey at worlds, with another great role model for our sport, Summer Ross. 

Tied into this concept is making sure your athletes understand this Chinese proverb – “Winning and losing are temporary, friendships last forever.”  Some of you may have seen our silver medal winning coach from Beijing, Lang Ping, back in 1984 when she defeated our USA women in the gold medal match. What many may not know is that just a few months later, she was living in my home in Albuquerque, N.M, learning English and sharing volleyball ideas. She spoke those very words of the proverb at the opening ceremonies of our 1987 Jr. Olympic Volleyball National Championships…and then 20 years later was coaching in her home nation, against her old team, and leading our USA team to another silver medal.  Since then, I have made extra efforts to help the teams I work with bring that proverb to life, and to meet our opponents, getting to know those who share our same love of the game, but just happen to be on the other side of the net when you play.  Get to know them off the court, you are likely to make some great friends for life.

Rick Reilly, who lives up north of us in Denver, has been voted National Sportswriter of the year, and wrote a related article on giving back to the sport called “For the Love of the Game” which can be read here.  Remember, we will be asking for players’ and coaches’ signatures and words of wisdom on at least one used volleyball at the end of the season each year, so that others not as fortunate as your program can benefit. The “Leave a Ball Behind” program (CLICK HERE to learn more about this program) is growing larger each year, and we thank you for your help in sharing the love of sport in this way too.

Finally, I think a club should take a long look at their own success by seeing how many of their coaches return to coach the sport again – even if they do not return to their own program. With good coaching education, you can take the core concepts and philosophy, and have success in other sports too. I have coached ice hockey and lacrosse since the mid-1970s and loved seeing all the jr high aged boys and girls move en masse up to their next year’s coaches.  I also take a lot of pride in seeing so many of the kids I have coached, returning to coach our sport after they finish with their university education. Those former players make me so proud to have worked with them, for they are giving back to our sport in the most valuable of ways.

Our “enemy” is never another sport, for what counts is that our youth are being active in whatever sport(s) they love. What we need to fight with and for are those who are not active, and those whose coaching “skills” drive players out of sport.  It is not any other sport…  We must remember the research that notes that 75% of kids quit a sport because is simply is no longer fun.  That is one very, very large percentage to be aware of – while also noting that “not winning enough” was ranked down at about the 10th reason they quit.  Number two?  The coach was a poor teacher….I hope you all do your best, in learning how to be the best teacher you can be, and never end up being a child’s last coach.

My son is on a recruiting trip to a men’s Division One volleyball program this weekend, after being his high school varsity lacrosse and tennis captain, as well as becoming a pretty darn good skier and flyfisherman. He is also coaching at a local high school this fall, for that which you teach you learn. Most rewarding of all, is that he and his sister both love to play volleyball, and will be playing it next year no doubt….and skiing with me when fresh powder falls and our schedules allow.  Give your players a love of sport and physical activity – even if it is not our lifetime sport. While you are at it tho, do me one favor – make sure your players ALL know that after their school careers end, that they can play for decades more in USAV adult competition and the US Open, where we have 75 & over age group competition.  Too many kids are not aware of how volleyball remains an option – coed, beach, grass, masters, and beyond…remind them as they continue on and ensure you are not their last coach…We all thank you.


The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On October 05, 2010 Paul Clarke wrote

Hi John...another really good article. Keep it up. I have a quick question. You stat re. 75% of kids leaving sport because it is no longer fun. Can you tell me where I can get more info on this statistic?? thanks very much, Paul

On October 05, 2010 Jeremy Brahm wrote

I attended one of your clinics in the Portland area in 1989 to demonstrate as a player for the coaches that were in attendance. My club coach, who is now the head coach at the University of Portland, Joe Houck was a great mentor when I was a player because I learned about the game from him. My club team didn't win a lot at first, but I could see how I was improving over my three years in high school. In early August I went and watched one of his teams practices for the upcoming season and in his office, I saw a last minute opening for the head coaching position at the Oregon School for the Deaf. I applied and got the position. This is my first head coaching or even coaching position. The conference that we are in has some very good teams, but I can see that the girls are improving even though we have not won a match or a set in league play. At times I can tell that the girls are frustrated with the losing, but I point out, look you are passing better, we are getting the ball over the net on three hits and we are getting the ball in the air on spikes. We have had few practices in the last couple of weeks, so they are improving in games and not practice, which for me is good. I still have to work with them in practice of course to improve passing and movement. I told them last night after we lost to the #7 team in the state in our class level. "Don't worry about the scoreboard, with these teams we have to look at what we were able to do."

On October 06, 2010 Alan Chew wrote

John, your blog is still as inspiring as usual. Ups and downs now in my life of volleyball. But reading your blog gives me lots of strength. "Growing the game together".

On October 07, 2010 John Kessel wrote

Paul, Jeremy, and Alan - Thanks for helping our sport grow, it is leaders like you who are really making a difference. I think all readers of this blog should visit the Youth Sports Quality Institute Blog - specifically per Paul's question, this link... What a great HS season it has been! John

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