How Can You Be Better?
Hey everybody, this is Sam from National Sports Overtime. We’re going to be talking about Middle School and coaching. The reason why I wanted to discuss Middle School is that I have a cousin that is in middle school right now. I went to one of his games and saw how some of the parents acted, saw how some of the kids acted, and just kind of wanted to share my feelings on middle school sports and coaching that age group. I also want your feedback on what you think. Do you think I’m totally wrong? Or maybe I’m a little bit, right?
See, as middle school players grow we need to realize 99% of all players are going to go pro in something else and that’s what we need to be teaching our players. A lot of kids grow up with big dreams. I know I was one of them that thought I was going to go pro and it didn’t happen. I did become a pro in a lot of other professions though. Talk to players about that. You know education is a huge part of their life. Not necessarily college, it can be a technical school. It can be learning how to do something on their own by having a mentor to learn from.
If a player does make it in the NFL, in the NBA, the WNBA or women’s soccer or major league baseball, eventually your time runs out and you’ve got to find another profession. A lot of us adults have gone through several different professions and have changed jobs. So we really need to be coaching players about the big picture and I think it starts in middle school.
Teaching Other Skills Than Just Sports Skills
I know a lot of kids play in midget league. Also, I know that there are a lot of great midget leagues in West Virginia. I actually grew up in one and I’m so thankful for all of my coaches that really helped us by being good role models for me. But it really starts getting very organized and seems to change in middle school.
I believe that middle school starts to teach players about how to have character. Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard the definition of character. Character is who you are when no one else is around to see it. It’s who you truly are. It’s what you truly believe.
In middle school sports, coaches need to be teaching manners and teaching sportsmanship, but we also need to be talking to them about anger management and problem-solving. What happens when you come upon an obstacle? How do you learn to go around that or under or over it or through it? Coaches need to be coaching them skills that don’t just pertain to sport, but teaching them and role modeling to them how to be as a good person.
I loved coaching middle school and high school players because this is a time where they don’t really know who they are and they are exploring. Middle school coaches are who start to help shape how a player is disciplined, how to work, how to practice, how to act in games, and how to act on the bus. Middle school lays the foundation for who our kids are going to become, but also what they are going to be when they go to high school or college or technical school or the military.
Are coaches teaching everything the right way? Are coaches looking into the new research or searching out new ideas? Or are coaches teaching them just the way they were taught? Well, a lot of us were taught wrong. A lot of us were taught with different techniques than are safe now. Think about it yourself. A lot of us in middle school and high school were taught the wrong way to tackle in football. There was a time period where we were taught to lead with our head and that is completely wrong. Now, in the days of concussions, coaches really want to teach the better technique of keeping their heads up and be looking at what they are hitting.
In middle school, coaches need to decide are they going to teach something basic that can be built upon? Or are you going to start with the basics of that particular high school sports program? Do you as a coach need to sit down with the high school coach and say what system are you running? Do you need to talk to them about some basic drills that they run? Or what are some problems that they saw last year with eighth-graders coming up? Where were the holes? Are you as a coach going to run a completely different system, but that system teaches them techniques and skills that will suit your high school?
As a coach, are you going to go out on your own and teach your own stuff? Are the players going to have to learn a completely different system in high school? Is your high school system in flux and you don’t even know what your high school coach is going to be running or they won’t talk to you?
So that’s where we stand. Middle school coaches only have them for two or three years, but it is such an important time in their lives. What are you going to do? We want them to win and sometimes coaching them the right way means they may not win right away.
When I was hired as a head coach, I did the system that I knew the best. The thought that I should have consulted with the high school coach in my area. I regret that. I wish that I would have sat down and talked to that coach. We needed to develop a relationship with them. Not just for my sake, but for the players’ sakes. Finding out a little bit about the system that the high school was running should have been a priority, but I didn’t have that confidence. I started as a middle school head coach at 19 years old. I didn’t go over the drills that they were running or what parts they were emphasizing.
Honestly, I was cocky and thought I knew it all. I thought I knew what I was doing. So I ran the system that I knew best from studying other coaches as I grew up. I thought there was a correct way to act and play the game. Luckily, I had a great mentor and I was very curious. I did a lot of research so that I could find out the different drills and really work at building that basic skill level.
My First Year
I had a really great team during my first year that I coached in middle school. We came out and we played the toughest team in our conference for our first game…my very first game as a coach. We lost by three points. It was such a blow to me because like I said, I really didn’t understand that middle school is about building them. It isn’t about you and your ego. It’s about getting them to be better. The coach I looked to for great advice wasn’t afraid to tell me that.
I took that to heart. The kids were down. The parents were down. The parents were doubting me thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is just gonna be an awful season.” Needless to say, we only ended up losing two other games the rest of the season unfortunately to that same team. We even took them to double overtime in the championship game that season. So we did have a great season, but I had to realize first that teaching them the right techniques, the right way to act, trying to build character, and talking about sportsmanship was more important to their future lives.
Learning to Teach How to Listen
I can remember in my third season that I was coaching basketball. I had a player who was absolutely excellent. She’s an unbelievable person and she was an great player. I’m still in touch with her to this day, but she had an issue where she liked to listen to her dad. Of course, he liked to coach her from the stands. We had spoken about it often. I finally got fed up with it. I had to call a timeout and I said look we are up by this many points. We’re not going to shoot right away. We’re going to pass the ball five times before we shoot, or it has to go into the post. Once it goes into the post and it kicks back out then we can shoot. I didn’t want a lot of dribbling. We needed to work on our passing. I really wanted to work on our movement.
So I was watching for this on our offense and I heard this player’s dad say you’re open…shoot it. The next thing I know there goes the ball goes flying toward the basket. Now, she made it, but that wasn’t the point. The point was about listening to directions, following through with certain actions, and listening to your coach and the coaching that was being told to you. She was one of the leaders on my team. At that moment, I immediately called a timeout and took her out of the game because it was more important for me for her to learn. Plus, it was important for other players to learn that when I said something then I meant it, period.
Number one, we’re a team and if our team is going to follow the rule of five passes or where it has to go into the post then everyone on the team has to follow that. The second thing we had to learn is that I was in control, not any parent in the stands. I was setting what boundaries were, what the rules of the offense we were going to run at this time were, and how we were going to do things as a team.
Her Perceptions vs The Team’s
I sat her down on the bench beside me. At first, she was pretty angry and didn’t understand. I’m explaining things to her and her first comment back to me was, but I made it. Well, players sometimes have to understand that good things happen even if we handle ourselves incorrectly. As a coach, you have to be willing to call out the wrong actions even if it leads to the right outcome. Most days that wrong action isn’t getting them the right outcome. That’s a little thing that you want to make sure as another coach, parent, family member, fan or member of the community attending a game, you really want to support the building of them as a player, but also the building as a person.
I’ll talk to you soon and hopefully see you down the road. This article was originally published in Medium on August 7, 2020.