Coaching young athletes requires more than proficiency in the sport. Coaches take on responsibility far beyond honing the team’s athletic abilities.
A good coach can leave a lifelong impression on their team members. Coaches rate close to Superman on a child’s hero list and with that comes the power to influence the future decisions of their young charges. Perhaps the single most important rule to good coaching is placing the interests of the team’s players above the desire to win the game. The experience should be fun and rewarding for every member of the team.
When coaching children with special needs it is especially important to emphasize the unique abilities of each player. The strength and weakness of each child must be identified and game play adapted to those findings. For example a child with a limited attention span may require simple one-step directions and frequent redirection. The very timid child may need extra encouragement and reinforcement to participate. A good technique is to rotate players through the various positions to determine where they are most comfortable and perform best.
The basic rules of coaching apply to children of any age or ability. Coaches should instill a sense of good sportsmanship by teaching their players to accept victory and defeat with equal humility. Particularly with special needs children it is important to stress that trying hard and having fun is the purpose of the game and that winning is just an added incentive. The golden rule of coaching is that everyone plays and there should be no benchwarmers in children’s athletics. Bullying or teasing should never be tolerated among teammates or toward opposing teams. Acknowledging successful attempts and signs of improvement gives the child a feeling of a job well done.
Coaching children sports and particularly those with special needs can be a wonderful experience. There is nothing more rewarding than watching a child blossom under your encouragement and instruction. Just remember the focus is on fun.