Q&A: How Do We Get Better Coaching in Youth Sports?


better-coaching-in-youth-sports-postGood coaches can be the difference between a positive youth sports experience and one that leaves a child wanting to give up. In the following article, Founder and Director of flexxCoach, Jim Johnson, provides valuable input on how to select outstanding coaches.

Nancy Asks: As a hockey parent, my concern is the selection that associations make for coaching staff. You send your child to upper level camps and pay for private lessons for spring and summer…then end up in a travel program with a BAD coach. This past season we spent close to ,000 dollars with sign-up, tryouts, uniforms, ice time, travel expenses, and more. For the price that we pay we should have higher level coaching. Dads should not be allowed to coach the game until they have a LEVEL 5 Coaching certificate and understand the level of skills and drills that are needed at different stages. Please help! What can I do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Answer: This is an ongoing problem in youth sports today. There is a shortage of”good” coaches for a number of reasons. There is a tremendous lack of gratitude amongst players and parents today. The top level youth coaches are usually coaching their own children and move up with these players. Coaching takes a tremendous amount of time away from their own families and it is difficult for many to take vacation time to coach travel and at the top levels. My recommendation is to find an organization that is committed to development of the fundamental broad based skills that are necessary to enjoy the game (for coaches and players). Also do your research to find an organization that is committed to the development of  self worth and self esteem in players. The elite organizations generally share a philosophy with their coaches on how this process should take place. Doing this research ahead of time should help you select an organization that is committed to the proper development of coaches and players.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Jim Johnson for his input.



  1. 1) Provide a financial incentive for coaching. The equiivalent of association and team fees for the season would be appropriate. This would increase the number of applicants, thus increasing pool of available coaching talent.
    2) Set clear association-wide goals for each age, regardless of competition level. A checklist of specific skill sets for each level. This will help ensure that each player will get a similar hockey experience. In our first foray into travel hockey last season, our team and the other team at our age and level had two very different styles. We should have both been playing the association's style.
    3) Interview each and every coach. Explain the association's goals, on-ice strategies, and the earlier mentioned skills checklist. Make sure that each coach who is selected is on board with these goals and demonstrates the ability to teach them or the willingness to learn. Do NOT select a coach based on his "pull" within the organization. Dad/mom coaches are okay, but make sure his philosophy on coaching his own child is in line with the association's philosophy on dad/mom coaches.

  2. Nancy asks a stellar question and Jim Johnson give a very sub par answer.

    Parents need to expect more from their associations in the pursuit of coaching excellence. I have coached under four different Hockey Directors & found all their interaction, education, communication and training of their coaches grossly inadequate. It is simply a matter of effort and leadership.

    First the association leadership should decide what traits they want in their coaches & charge the highly compensated director with getting that accomplished. Do you want a competitive program or a 'lets have fun & learn the game?' Those traits need to be communicated with the parents, so their expectations are in line with the association's – or they can go elsewhere.

    There's a real misnomer that the best coaches must be extremely experienced at hockey. While that can help (especially a beginning coach), it really should be low on the priorities for coach selection. Lets face it, there are a tremendous number of players in all sports that are in their HOF, but are HORRIBLE coaches. The same can be said at the Youth level with former Youth, Junior & College players. Heck some of the best coaches in the history of the NHL would have made terrible youth coaches.

    What do you want in a coach? First he needs to be dedicated to the sport, kids & up coming season. He needs to be open minded, and willing to do it the way the association wants it done. He should be constantly attempting to coach better. The association must train him for what they want, and then monitor & tutor the coach. This is essential! Too many directors go out & build relationships with coaches & expect them to come in & do their own thing. Too often 'their thing' is not in line with association expectations & boom, unhappiness.

    A Level 5 certificate is not necessary, but I do recommend a Level 4 CEP (or equivalent) to coach Squirt ages and above. The association's Hockey Director must make sure the ALL the coaches are coaching 'his' way. Again he must recruit, educate, train, mentor & monitor ALL of his coaches no matter their resume. Fathers make fine coaches, but it can be a problem with team selection & dynamics.

    Parents you should expect your Hockey Director to provide your child with a great coach. It really is his most important job. If he does not do it – get another director.

  3. Thanks for the honest and candid input Tom! I would love to speak with you about it further. Please send me an email when you have a chance, I would like to ask you a couple questions on your thoughts! Shelly (shelly@youthsportscoalition.com)