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Coaching and Goal Setting in Youth Sports

When it comes to goal setting, coaching and youth sports, I have a unique perspective...

I was a Division 1 Basketball Player. I am a Youth Basketball Coach. I am a Certified Mental Game Coach and the CEO of Great Sports Minds LLC.

I work with athletes, coaches and parents to provide training to strengthen their mental game to improve their performance.

Coaching youth basketball teams over the past two seasons has given me the opportunity to weave some of my mental game training into my practices and games.

After many years of coaching, I made two significant changes to my coaching style...

First, at practice, I modified the beginning of practice to ask each player:

“What skill are you focusing  on at today’s practice?”

At the end of each practice, I ask each player:

“How was your effort? How did you do on your practice goal today?”

The quality of the practice goals set by each player improved with each practice.

  • Weak hand dribble
  • Weak hand layup
  • Hustle
  • Shooting
  • Boxing out

I loved the rhythm we began to get into.

Young players (5th & 6th-grade girls) were focusing on a specific skill they wanted to improve upon.

They had a purpose for the practice.

The quality of the responses I got from each player also strengthened with each practice.

I would ask:

“How did you do with the goal you set for the practice?”

We moved from okay to:

  • Pretty good
  • Good
  • Great
  • I’m getting better

With each response, I gave the player a high five.

I implemented this process for three key reasons:

1. Improved focus.

As a parent of an 11 and 15-year-old, I have asked them often, “What did you work on at practice today?”

“Stuff” was the typical answer. I thought if this is true with my children at practice, this is probably true for my players at practice. This technique resulted in greater focus.

2. Improved self-confidence and positive affirmation.

I had a parent of one of the players tell me after the first practice that their child felt bad because of their skill set compared to the other players on the team. With this routine in place, each player focused on a goal that they self-identified to improve upon and they 100% positively self-evaluated.

3. Let go of perfection.

To advance as a basketball player or an athlete, you have to be willing to work on all aspects of your game including your weaknesses. Getting the players to openly acknowledge that they had areas to work on (self-identified) was a step towards helping them let go of perfectionism.

The second change was MY behavior in games.

I significantly worked to improve my composure under pressure and helped my players do the same.

How and why did I do this?

For my players:

Instead of saying, “We have to calm down, and focus,” during time-outs, I use the time out to help them calm down. I taught them how to use the power of their breathing.

For example, last season, my boy’s 7th & 8th-grade team got off to a slow start and was down 12-2 in the early minutes of the game...

During the time out, I had the kids taking 5 deep breaths with me leading the process and the count. In through the nose, out through their mouth. I made some tweaks in the lineup and said we have to focus on what we do well. Get the ball inside, box out, and take care of the ball.

We ended up winning that game by 4 points and taking the league championship.

Helping the players calm down and gain their composure at a time they were rattled was the turning point in the game.

As a coach:

I am type A by nature. I have worked hard to weave meditation into my life and to take full advantage of my breath to center and calm me. If I want my players to have emotional control on the court, I believe I am obligated to model the same behavior.

Recently my boy’s high school recreation team lost in the semi-finals by 3 points in what might have been deemed a “controversial call.” The old me would have stewed on this play for days and definitely would have lost sleep on the game. I let it go. I was on to the next... I congratulated the players on a great season and moved on. I didn’t stew. And I didn’t lose sleep.

Two simple steps:

  1. Ask your players to self-select and self-evaluate a practice goal on a daily basis.
  2. Teach and show your players how to use the power of their breathing to settle their nerves can make a big impact on your practices and your team’s performance.


Do You Want To Improve Your Mental Game?

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