John Kessel: Never Be a Child's Last Coach

By John Kessel | May 01, 2018, 5:55 p.m. (ET)

Grow the game

Edited from John Kessel's original post on Oct. 4, 2010.

 

There are many ways to define success for a volleyball coach.

Wins. Improved technical skills from your athletes. Perhaps your athletes moving up to the next group or starting in high school or earning a college scholarship.

Here’s another measurement when coaches evaluate each season … how many kids play volleyball again in the following season.

A goal … never be a child’s last coach.

A key role for coaches is 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, as a coach you need to be aware of how your teaching style, lineup selections, actions and decisions, both on and off the court, 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?

The Love of the Game

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, 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.

I am fond of this Chinese proverb – “Winning and losing are temporary, friendships last forever.”

And I remember Chinese coach Lang Ping uttering these very words at the opening ceremony of a national championship some 30 years ago. But the proverb has always stuck with me and, 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. They 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.

This metric works with other groups as well.

I think clubs should take a long look at their own efforts to retain their coaches. Do they return to coach again?

Are your parents, coaches and fans treating your officials with the respect they deserve? Is bad behavior encouraged or discouraged? It’s a national epidemic that youth sports are losing officials due to harassment at events.

Volleyball is a lifetime sport. I think we all need to be committed to creating a safe and fun environment for everyone who wants to participate, so we can retain players, coaches and officials.

Finally, it’s understood that sometimes our kids will pick another sport or activity. That’s O.K. Our enemy is never another sport, because we want our youth to be active. But what we need to fight are coaches who drive players out of sports. Most kids quit a sport because it is simply no longer fun.

In a recent survey on why kids quit a sport reported, “Not winning enough” ranked 10th. “No longer fun” was No. 1. What was No. 2? “The coach was a poor teacher.”

We can improve. We can turn those numbers around. 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.