Gearing Up for a New Season: Insights from a Pro

May 1, 2021

Dan Koppen

When it comes to youth sports, I want kids to be kids. It’s not about wins and losses – sports are about having fun. About inclusion. Fun is what I remember most from the early days when I was a kid learning to play.

Just as a side note, when I talk about sports, I tend to talk in terms of football because that’s where I spent a majority of my time as a kid and a professional. But what I’m saying here applies to every kid, coach, and team leader – in any sport. So you can substitute “court” or “field” or “pitch” or whatever works for you.

From one (former) kid to another

If I could give kids one piece of advice, it would be don’t just focus on one thing. Even if you have a favorite sport. In the summers or the off-season, you can play another sport. Or several different sports. Ride bikes, spend time with friends, and run around outdoors instead of sitting inside playing video games. Enjoy this moment and don’t get caught up focusing on just one sport.

The whole point is to have fun. Besides, lots of coaches are looking for well-rounded young athletes.

Coming out of COVID

Kids have had a very rough year. A year is a long time when you’re 8 years old – no school, no sports practice, no hanging out with friends. It’s a lot to deal with.

Coaches, in general, have done a really good job trying to help their kids cope. I recommend that coaches keep up the encouraging contact they’ve had with their players during the pandemic. Now is a great time to send the kids an email – hang in there, we’re going to play this year, we’re looking forward!

Fun is more important than ever now, because with so much time apart, kids may have to re-learn how to be social with one another. How to be good teammates. Coaches will need to give feedback and criticism that’s helpful and encouraging – and keep the emphasis on fun.

Get the team together now

You don’t have to wait for practice top officially start. Getting the team together beforehand is a great way to gear up for your season.

When I was in college, our offensive line coach used to host a barbecue at his house for players during the summer. We did that in the pros, too. It helped take the “job” out of playing because we could get outside and do something relaxing and fun that wasn’t as intense as formal practices and games.

You can do the same thing. Host a barbecue at your place so kids and families can interact away from the field. Some kids on the team may not know each other, or they haven’t seen each other in a year. With both parents and players on hand, this is also a good time to talk about this year’s protocols like distancing or other guidelines you’ll need to follow.

You can host social activities like this during the season, too. It’s a great way to build camaraderie and personal relationships off the field.

Mentors are always needed

There’s no doubt about the value mentors provide for kids in youth sports. Coaches, especially at that level, like kids and love coaching. They focus on teaching fundamentals, giving kids the tools they need, and having fun.

And it works. During the course of the season, you see a completely different kid begin to emerge. Kids feel the difference in themselves, and parents and coaches enjoy seeing that growth. Mentors play a huge role in how a kid grows and evolves.

Often mentors are peers, or kids in the same sport who are just a bit older. But mentors don’t have to be from a peer group. It could be a coach or some other adult who serves as an informal mentor. Someone who the kid can connect with and trust to give them solid advice. Someone who expects more from the kid that they expect from themself.

Gearing up for fall

If you play a fall sport, you probably start feeling those butterflies in August as you’re getting back to practice. I know I did as a player. Who will come out to play this year? What will the new uniforms look like? What kind of extras are available? But I’m sure those feelings are equally present for coaches and administrators. Except coaches and youth sports leaders are at it even earlier to set up a successful season and have a whole lot more on their minds, making their work even more extraordinary.

As we sprint toward a life that looks more normal, I’m ready to experience all of fall’s glory. I’m ready see kids throughout the country playing the sports they love – and having a whole lot of fun doing it.

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