Coach Guide

In this guide, you will be able to see how to design practices, tips on safety, the Coaching Corps practice model, and other tools you can use to be a successful coach. See the index below to jump to a specific section.


Coach Roles

You will play a lot of different roles in your players’ lives. You have the opportunity to be a mentor, motivator, and a teacher. Coaches can have an incredible impact on kids and to have the greatest impact, here are some things to consider:

You are a Role Model

Being a youth sports coach is a special opportunity to impact the lives of many kids. This is a powerful position to be in, and it is important to remember that you are a role model. Make sure you:

  • Are professional in the language you use
  • Coach from a youth centered perspective (it’s not all about winning, there are so many other outcomes you can teach your players)
  • Model sporting behavior at all times
  • Are friendly, kind and respectful to all players, fellow coaches, other teams, referees, families, program staff
  • Regulate your own emotions and remain composed when managing difficult situations (sometimes taking a deep breath, or pausing to collect yourself for a few seconds can be the difference between handling something effectively, or not)
  • Display your positive attitude, show the kids you’re excited to be there
  • Fulfill your coaching commitment

You are a Motivator

Encouraging and inspiring your players to reach beyond what they thought they could do is one of the most rewarding aspects of coaching. You can be the difference in what your players achieve!

  • Be enthusiastic, it will be infectious for your players
  • Praise and cheer on your team
  • Give players specific improvement feedback along with praise to give them the skills to improve
  • Create a team culture of support; encourage and teach your players how to support each other
  • Recognize each player is motivated in different ways and adjust your approach accordingly. Some players can handle a more direct approach and some need more gentle coaching.

You are an Authority Figure

Creating boundaries and ensuring your players know you are in charge are important steps in managing behavior. Be friendly and kind with this role, but also firm and consistent in your approach.

  • Speak confidently and concisely
  • Respect all students in your communication (no yelling except when an emergency calls for this)
  • At your first practice establish group rules and consequences, if those rules are broken…
  • Address inappropriate behavior, this demonstrates control and sends the message about what behavior will not be tolerated
  • Always be fair with every situation and each player

You are an Organizer

Being responsible for the logistics of coaching a team is an important role. You may not have specific scheduling responsibilities, but you do play a role in how your team is run.

  • Be prepared and always show up with a plan. Not only will this increase the likelihood of a smooth practice, it demonstrates to your players that you care.
  • Track attendance to monitor who is showing up or missing throughout the season. Turn in attendance, if required, to your supervisor.
  • Create a routine for practice. Kids like to know what to expect. Follow the Coaching Corps Practice Model, it’s a simple way to ensure routine happens.

In addition to the above roles that all coaches can play, there are specific roles you will have based on what type of coach you are.

Tips for Head Coaches

  • Continue Learning: Great coaches are always looking to build upon their knowledge base. Look up new activities to try with your team, talk to fellow coaches, or take a coaching course. Running new activities at practice keeps your players focused and ready to listen and learn. Go to coachingcorps.org for coach resources.
  • Empower your Assistant Coach: Assistant coaches are valuable members of your team. They could also be a great head coach in a season or two. Help them get there. Give them opportunities to share some small leadership opportunities, provide them feedback on what they are doing well and what they can continue to develop. Utilizing an assistant coach effectively can make a head coach’s role easier and gives your players another positive role model to look up to.

Tips for Assistant Coaches

  • Be United: Always be on the same page with your head coach in front of the team. If you disagree with something he or she has said, wait until you can speak privately. This protects team morale and prevents confusion among your players.
  • Understand your role: Being an assistant coach doesn’t mean standing around doing nothing, or acting as the equipment manager. Ask the head coach for clarification about your responsibilities.  Knowing your role will empower you as a coach and allow the team to see you as a leader.
  • Be proactive: Taking on additional tasks can improve your coaching experience.  Offer suggestions to the head coach about ways to increase your responsibilities like leading warm ups, demonstrating sports skills or providing individual feedback to players.  In this way, players have the benefit of having two caring and attentive coaches during practice.
  • Build relationships: Get to know your players. Ask them about their day, aspirations and goals. This lets your players know you care and helps them feel both physically and emotionally safe.
  • Be a student of the game: Next season you may be the head coach. Use the time now to learn strategies that will benefit you when you are leading your own team.

Safety Tips

Ensuring your players’ safety is the top priority for a coach. We’ll talk more about Safety in our Building Blocks of Quality Youth Sports, but these tips will help you get started:

  • Use a Formal Sign in and Sign Out System – Check with your supervisor to learn how to keep record of youth attendance. Be diligent and track attendance every day. Know who attends each practice and make sure they safely return to the after-school center, or get picked up by an approved adult.
  • Have a Buddy System – Make sure a player is never alone. Assigning buddies helps create a safe and welcoming space where no one is left out. Make sure youth travel in, at minimum, pairs when going to the bathroom or getting water. Incorporate inclusion and prevent cliques by forming the buddy pairs yourself.
  • Make sure you can see all youth – Always have a visual on all players and they can also see you.
  • Take a Head Count – Know how many players you have on a particular day. Especially when you are travelling or transitioning from one location to another.
  • Physical Contact – High 5’s are a great way to connect with players. For other contact, like hugging – let the player initiate it. Ask your site supervisor for other protocols you need to be aware of.
  • Warm Up and Cool Down – Gradually increase players’ heart rate and intensity at the beginning of practice and slowly bring it back down at the end of practice.
  • Water Breaks – Give time for players to drink water. For a 90 minute practice include at least 2-3 breaks. If it is hot or humid you should increase the number of breaks. Always let players get water if they ask for it.
  • Proper Equipment – Soccer players should wear shin guards, tackle football requires pads and helmet. Not all program sites have the financial means to supply equipment. Check with your supervisor regarding minimum equipment requirements.
  • Transportation – Establish travel rules for crossing roads and staying together as a group. If you have two coaches one should lead at the front of the group, the other should be the last person.

Seven Tips to Support Your Players

The kids you will coach come from a variety of different backgrounds and have faced a lot of different circumstances. Kids growing up in the communities you will coach in may have experienced trauma such as poverty, violence, sexual assault, abuse, neglect, drug use, and/or gang activity. You certainly won’t be able to solve these issues but you can play a key role in creating a space where kids feel welcome, safe and supported by a trusted adult, you!

1. Create a Safe Space

Kids often face much uncertainty in their lives, which can create discomfort and anxiety. Coming to your practice and knowing exactly what to expect, and what the structure is, creates a safe space for kids to learn and grow. You will change up what activities you run at practice, but the structure and routine should always stay the same. Examples of Routine:
  • Always start practice with an opening circle and check-in
  • Use transitions to help players move between activities (e.g. always do a countdown to bring the players into a circle). Down time between activities can be uncomfortable for players. Transitions create seamless ways to navigate between activities, helping youth to always know what is happening.
  • Celebrate birthdays
  • Always have a closing circle at the end of practice to debrief learning and have a check-out with players
  • End practice with a team cheer
  • Use the Coaching Corps Practice Model

2. Be Predictable and Consistent

Show up, the kids are counting on you. If you have to miss a practice or game, make sure you let the kids know ahead of time that you’ll be gone and when you’ll return. Many kids have been let down or treated badly by adults, you want to demonstrate consistency and clear communication with them. Be predictable by reacting to any situation in a positive, calm and respectful manner.

3. Honor Strengths

While the young people you’re coaching may have faced many traumatic events in their lives, you can remind them of all the things they are really good at, or things they have in their lives that are positive.

4. Play

Don’t get caught standing on the sidelines watching your team practice. Model the joy of playing and get involved with the players.

5. Be a Connector

Create a space where teammates learn to work together, make friends, communicate with and support each other. This gives your players a great support network. Run intentional activities that get players talking and sharing with each other. See the “Games and Energizers” section for examples.

6. Use your Resources

You are not solely responsible for resolving issues and supporting your players by yourself, especially if you face a circumstance you don’t feel equipped to handle. You should always reach out to your supervisor if you need any guidance or assistance. Coaching a team that practices once or twice a week makes it difficult for you to know what else might be going on with your players. For example, if you have two players who seem to have an issue with each other, ask someone at the program or school site. It might give you some important background information to help you approach the situation.

7. Team Culture

Culture sets the standard for how to behave and treat each other, it’s “the way we do things here”. A strong culture is the glue that holds your team together. Create your team culture on the first day you meet the players.

Tip: Establish your Team Culture with a Game Plan!
  • Create the game plan – What rules/expectations/behaviors do you want your team to represent? Make sure you include the Coaching Corps Core of the Corps 1) Have fun! 2) Try Your Best, and 3) Respect Yourself and Each Other.
  • Share the game plan – A great game plan can’t be executed unless all the players are on board and ready to implement it. It’s the same with creating culture. Explicitly identify the Core of the Corps with your team.
  • Player Input on Game Plan – In executing a game plan, sometimes our players have innovative solutions that, as a coach, we just didn’t see. Include your players in creating the team culture. If players are empowered to help create the culture, the more likely they will represent it.
  • Review “Game Film” – Following games, a coach may revisit certain plays using game film with their team. It’s the same with culture. Review your team culture every day, not just when something goes wrong. If you consistently review your culture it becomes ingrained and players will start holding each other accountable to it.

The Building Blocks of Quality Sports

Youth sports are a powerful vehicle for promoting healthy physical and character development. But fitness, leadership, persistence, and sportsmanship don’t happen just because a child joins a team. A great coach unlocks the valuable life lessons a child can discover through sports. A great coach thinks not only about developing their players’ sports skills, but also life skills.  She always thinks about the end game and uses sports as a vehicle to promote the players’ overall development.  A Coaching Corps coach is always on the lookout for teachable moments that will transcend the playing field and allow players to succeed on and off the field …. For life!

To help maximize players’ development, Coaching Corps trains its coaches on The Building Blocks for Quality Youth Sports. These five principles — safety, teambuilding, youth engagement, skill building, and physical activity — simply and clearly articulate the experience we seek to create for youth. They are based on youth development principles proven to positively influence young people’s growth. Research has shown they also contribute to longer-term outcomes that are desirable for young adults, including: economic self-sufficiency, healthy family and social relationships, and civic engagement. 


“When I go to this after-school program, I’m always welcomed and I feel like it’s home.” — Carmen, 14

Promoting emotional and physical safety builds the foundation for young people to take risks and learn through their successes and failures. When young people feel safe, they trust their coaches to protect them from physical harm and they know that they will be accepted and supported by their teammates.

Physical Safety

Coach utilizes space and manages players effectively to minimize the risk of harm, threat or injury

  • Coach minimizes safety issues with playing space (e.g. clearing broken glass, marking potholes, creating clear boundaries)
  • Coach uses equipment that is age appropriate and safe
  • Coach organizes drills in a manner which is safe, emphasizing proper technique
  • Coach immediately intervenes if there is a physical confrontation between players

Emotional Safety

Coach and youth interact in a manner that is secure, accepting of differences and promotes risk taking

  • Coach models acceptance of differences with all team members and encourages all players to do the same
  • Coach establishes rules and behavior expectations at beginning of the season and consistently revisits and maintains them
  • Coach provides feedback that turns mistakes into learning opportunities


“My team and I are like a sisterhood, helping and encouraging one another through good and bad times.” — Erin, 13

Developing positive and caring relationships between adult instructors and youth, and between youth and their peers helps young people build a social network that supports their learning and growth. Young people know they can depend on and confide in their instructors, and learn critical teamwork skills with their peers.

Caring Adults

Coach develops a supportive relationship with each individual player that facilitates his or her overall growth

  • Coach gets to know players individually (e.g., make it a goal to learn something new about one player each day)
  • Coach conducts an opening circle at the beginning of practice to check in with players
  • Coach refers to each individual player by his/her name

Supportive Peers

Coach promotes positive peer-to-peer relationships where each team member supports one another

  • Coach asks players questions which help teammates give each other positive and constructive feedback
  • Coach runs activities so young people get to know and respect each other’s differences
  • Coach encourages players to support their teammates (high 5’s, cheering)

Youth Engagement

“My coach asks me for suggestions and then uses them. He’s the first person who ever treated me like an adult.” — Eric, 15

Creating opportunities for young people to have a say in their own team develops critical thinking skills, teaches young people to develop and express their opinions, and problem solve both individually and in a group. When coaches facilitate this process, instead of taking it on for young people, they are empowering a new generation of young people who are able to lead, stand up for their opinions and can work together to make decisions. When young people are encouraged to voice their opinions and believe they are heard, they know they matter.


Coach gives youth the opportunity to share opinions and feedback

  • Coach asks players to share their ideas, opinions and/or feedback about the team, games, and/or practice


Coach gives youth the opportunity to select some activities

  • Coach gives the team a choice between several activities
  • Coach asks the team what skill they want to work on at the next practice


Coach gives youth the opportunity to take responsibility for pieces of practice

  • Coach gives all youth the chance throughout the season to help with team (e.g. leading stretching, help with equipment, demonstrate ect…)

Skill Building

“When I play sports I feel really good about myself because I learn new skills.” — Semaje, 9

Sports require athletes to learn a variety of physical skills. Fundamental skills should be taught with an emphasis on player improvement over the course of the season. Each player should be challenged to stretch and to reach attainable goals. Experiencing competence can increase confidence and can be a sense of pride and accomplishment. In addition, the more young people feel a sense of mastery, the more it becomes normal for them to achieve success. Young athletes can also learn skills such as goal setting, teamwork, and perseverance. However, the sport itself doesn’t teach these things. It is the coach that helps the player bring these skills to life.

For Sports

Coach runs a dynamic practice that includes fundamentals development and sports specific improvement feedback

  • Coach includes drills in every practice that develop fundamental sports skills
  • Coach breaks skills into steps so players increase mastery and build confidence
  • Coach offers players constructive feedback on skills development

For Life

Coach uses teachable moments to instill lessons that youth can apply to other areas of their lives

  • Coach deliberately takes advantage of “teachable” moments
  • Coach demonstrates and models responsible and respectful behavior
  • Coach intentionally teaches young people how to apply skills to other aspects of their lives

Physical Activity

“Cuando estoy corriendo, me siento feliz y inteligente.” (When I’m running, I feel happy and intelligent.)Julie, 6

Young people’s physical development is an essential component of their overall healthy development. Physical activity helps young people build strong bones, muscles and hearts, and helps prevent chronic diseases associated with sedentary lifestyles. Fun and engaging sports programs keep kids interested and help them develop lifelong healthy habits.


Coach ensures most youth are moving throughout practice for a minimum of 75% of the time

  • Coach runs practice at least twice a week, a minimum of 1-1/2 hours each practice
  • Coach manages practices so players are consistently moving (e.g. no long lines, clear and concise instructions, uses attention getters and transitions to keep the practice running smoothly)


  • Coach runs practice so players are getting a little out of breath
  • Coach progressively increases the level of physical intensity over the course of practice


  • Coach includes games and scrimmages to make physical activity enjoyable
  • Coach doesn’t use physical activity as a punishment

Developing Our Players’ Character

The Building Blocks of Quality Youth Sports help you create a positive and supportive environment for your players to thrive in. Within that environment you can focus on and develop critical character traits. At Coaching Corps we focus on four specific character traits–persistence, optimism, self-regulation, and empathy (POSE)–we believe will give your players the skills to be successful on and off the field. The following lays out the POSE. We have listed the definition and ways you can be intentional about teaching and fostering POSE.

1. Persistence

Persistence is the determination to work towards goals regardless of setbacks.

  • Stay skill based and allow players the space to fail. If they try a new skill and struggle, talk to players about ways they can overcome the challenge(s).
  • When a player does something that demonstrates persistence, make sure you name it and explain it. (e.g. “Jasmine, when you stayed with that player after she took the ball and you got it back, that really showed a lot of persistence!”)
  • Create games that require players as a group to be persistent. (e.g. lead a basketball lay-up drill that requires the team to make a certain number of lay-ups in a specific time frame. Set the lay-up goal for the team. Make it challenging enough so they will get close to achieving the goal. Then encourage the team to strategize and try again.)
  • During scrimmages make sure to point out to your bench when you see examples of persistence.

2. Optimism

Optimism is the hopeful outlook that positive things can happen, and with effort those positive things will occur.

  • Be optimistic! You cannot spread what you don’t have. When you are faced with challenges always model that there is a solution. (e.g. you get to the field and it’s all muddy and they can’t play that day – get excited that you can do an inside activity and get to know each other better)
  • Focus less on outcome and more on effort. (e.g. the team just missed a game-winning goal but the defense held the other team to only two goals the entire game.)
  • Find times to name it and explain it. (e.g. “Marco you are so optimistic today! I really like that you kept cheering the entire game!”)
  • If a player engages in negative self-talk ask them to think about positive things about themselves. If the player struggles, help them by naming some of the good you see in them.

Self-Regulation (Self-Control)

Self-regulation is the ability to control one’s own thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors and have an appropriate response to specific situations.

  • Teach players how to understand and determine what an appropriate response is in specific situations (e.g. if a player gets frustrated by a teammate, ask the player to talk about what was happening and what an appropriate response should be. Try not to make this punitive, but a teachable moment).
  • Talk to players about the role of the officials. If players get upset with a call, explain to them that the referee is doing her best to make the game safe and fair.
  • It’s important to have players rate their emotions on a scale so they understand where they should be in specific situations. One way to do this is to ask players to rate themselves. Start with a 10 and ask players what a 10 looks like for them. Then ask players to demonstrate a 7, then 5, then 3, and then 1. It will look different for different players. When players are in situations, and you need them to change their reactions, ask them to bring down the level.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share what someone else is feeling without judgement.

  • Allow players to help one another. Encourage them to “teach” each other if they have something to offer a teammate.
  • Remind players that empathy isn’t just important for their teammates, but it’s important to have it for opposing teams, coaches, officials and fans (e.g. give players the opportunity to be officials at practice.)
  • Sometimes for younger players, the concept of empathy might be hard to understand so it’s helpful to use the term “being a good friend”. Take the time to find examples of what it means to be a good friend and then name it and explain it.

The Three “I’s”

To teach the four character traits to your players, use the “Three I’s”

  1. Identify – Be explicit and identify the four character traits to your team. Teach the four traits. Ensure players know and understand them. Players won’t be able to improve on these traits if they don’t know what they are.
  2. Illustrate – Young people will do what they see. Model the four traits to your players.
  3. Implement – Create real life examples of the four character traits in action. Use the examples outlined with each definition when coaching. To bring the character traits to life even more, apply the following sports specific scenarios at your practices and games.

Practicing the Character Traits: Scenarios

For each of these situations ask your players to think about how they would employ one or more of the character traits. Some possible answers are below each scenario. The players can respond with what they might do, or could answer for what a teammate could do. Note: Make sure you explicitly identify the character traits when going over the scenarios.

1. You just scored the game winning shot with no time left on the clock.

  • Empathy: Instead of celebrating by the other team’s goalie, who just let the ball go in, run back to your bench or midfield and celebrate with your team.
  • Self-regulation: Get back to your bench, or away from the other team, to begin your celebration.

2. You are really good at dribbling a basketball and you notice a teammate is struggling with that skill

  • Empathy: Help your teammate with the skill by practicing it with them.
  • Optimism: Go and cheer on your teammate and let them know you believe in them.
  • Persistence: Remind your teammate they need to stick with it and try not to get discouraged.

3. Your coach gives you tips to improve a specific skill

  • Persistence: Set a plan for when you are going to work on it and what your goal is. Stick with it until you reach that goal.
  • Optimism: Even if you struggle at first to learn the skill, you believe you will improve if you keep trying.
  • Self-Regulation: If you get frustrated when you’re unable to master the skill, use a countdown to calm yourself down. Then try again.

4. You just scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes left on the clock

  • Self-regulation: Stay calm and be patient because there is still a lot of time left on the clock.
  • Persistence: You keep playing hard even though you are ahead.
  • Optimism: You believe that, with effort, you’ll have a positive end to the game

5. You start off slow at practice because you had a hard day at school

  • Optimism: Tell yourself you will improve and just need to try and stay positive.
  • Self-regulation: Tell your coach you are having a hard day and you might need to take a break if things upset you.
  • Persistence: You put forth a steady effort, even if it’s a little slower than before.

6. You just lost the ball and the other team scored the go-ahead shot. There is 1 minute left on the clock

  • Persistence: Stay focused on the game and put in as much effort as you can.
  • Optimism: Even though there is one minute left you stay positive and keep working hard.
  • Self-Regulation: You count from 10 to 0 to calm yourself down so you can refocus on giving your best effort for the last minute.

7. You just threw the ball to home plate and the catcher missed it, letting the go-ahead run score in the 8th inning

  • Optimism: Remind yourself there is still time to get two runs before the game is over if you continue to put in effort.
  • Empathy: You remember what it feels like to make a mistake during a game and you cheer on your teammate, letting them know it’s ok.
  • Self-Regulation: Instead of getting frustrated or angry, you focus on continuing to try for the remainder of the game.

Coaching Corps Practice Model

For each of these situations ask your players to think about how they would employ one or more of the character traits. Some possible answers are below each scenario. The players can respond with what they might do, or could answer for what a teammate could do. Note: Make sure you explicitly identify the character traits when going over the scenarios.

1. Preparation

Plan practice ahead of time, before you arrive at the field. The more prepared you are, the smoother your practice will be. Make sure to design a practice that focuses on one skill.

2. Set-Up

Arrive at the field 15 minutes early and set up equipment to be ready for when the players arrive.

3. Opening Circle

Welcome the players to practice. Check in with them to see how their day is going (e.g. Thumb up for great day, thumb sideways for an okay day, thumb down for a rough day). Pay attention to whose thumb is down.  Review your team agreements (1. Have fun! 2. Try your best and 3.) Respect yourself and each other. Have a player select one for the team to focus on that day. Introduce the skill of the day.

Building Blocks Integration Examples:


  • Emotional – Ensure all players are equally in the circle; no one has their back to anyone else


  • Caring Adults- Welcome everyone to practice, be warm and friendly
  • Supportive Peers – Encourage players to take a look at everyone else’s thumb to see how their teammates are doing

Youth Engagement

  • Voice – Ask a few players to share after checking in
  • Choice – Have a player select one of the “Core of the Corps” to focus on during practice
  • Leadership – Ask a few players to help you gather the team in for opening circle

Skill Building

  • For Sports – Introduce the skill of the day
  • For Life – If some thumbs are down during check in make a general statement about when you’re having a rough day to ask for help, or if you see a teammate having a bad day you can help them

Physical Activity – N/A

Character Building Point: Remind players they need to take care of each other. If you put in effort and you are excited, it will be a great practice! Model empathy by letting players know even if they are having a thumbs down day, you are there for them. Acknowledge to your team that you understand it might be harder to get started if you aren’t having a good day. (Empathy, Optimism, Persistence)

4. Warm Up

Be creative! Play an energizer game instead of running laps. The players should be a little out of breath and starting to sweat. Include stretching (this is a great place for players to choose and lead stretches).

Building Blocks Integration Examples


  • Physical – Make sure players don’t start too fast (e.g. sprinting before jogging and stretching)
  • Emotional – Make sure everyone is equally involved (e.g. if you warm up with a tag game, make sure the same person isn’t always “it”)


  • Caring Adults – Give individual feedback, use names, participate in warm up with players
  • Supportive Peers – Use partner stretches and have pairs answer a get to know you question while stretching (e.g. What do you like about school? Do you have any brothers and sisters?)

Youth Engagement

  • Voice – Have the players count to 10 together when stretching
  • Choice – Ask players to recommend stretches
  • Leadership – Have two captains of the day lead the team stretches

Skill Building

  • For Sports – Make sure players are stretching with the proper technique
  • For Life – Players can lose focus during stretching, talk to the team about the importance of focus during a task

Physical Activity

  • Consistent – Make sure players move throughout warm up (e.g. use dynamic stretching instead of stretching)
  • Challenging – Don’t make warm up too challenging. Do make sure players feel loose and have started to get a little out of breath, preparing their bodies for practice.
  • Fun – Use fun tag games. Don’t run laps.

Character Building Point: Be positive during this activity, set the tone for the session. Find opportunities to acknowledge players for being supportive and kind to each other. Remember to always name it and explain it. (Optimism, Empathy)

5. Drill

A drill is an intro or review of a sports specific skill. Explain the skill, and break it down into teachable components (e.g. “Today when we dribble I want you to focus on 1) keeping your head up; 2) using both feet; and 3) keeping the soccer ball close to you”). Avoid lines. Get players moving quickly. Use a visual demonstration instead of just telling players what you want them to do.

Building Blocks Integration Examples:


  • Physical – Make sure players are using correct technique
  • Emotional – Give all players the chance to practice the skill at their own pace


  • Caring Adults – Use positive body language and tone when giving feedback
  • Supportive Peers – Have players work in small groups to practice skill of the day

Youth Engagement

  • Voice – Have players give feedback to each other
  • Choice – Provide the choice between two activities and let the players select
  • Leadership – Have a player or two demonstrate the skill

Skill Building

  • For Sports – Have players go at their own pace, making sure they focus on individual improvement. Give specific improvement feedback, not only encouragement.
  • For Life – Incorporate goal setting (e.g. If working on passing have pairs count how many times they can pass back and forth in 60 seconds. Then time them again and have the pairs focus on improving their original number). If players struggle help them find solutions and encourage them to stick with it.

Physical Activity

  • Consistent – Use all your equipment and limit standing around in lines
  • Challenging – Progress the challenge by layering. (e.g. 1. Start dribbling inside the half court, 2. Dribble only with your left hand, 3. Dribble only with your right hand, 4. Pair up and dribble versus a defender)
  • Fun – Incorporate activities that don’t result in elimination (e.g. If your ball gets knocked out of the grid, do 10 toe taps and re-enter)

Character Building Point: As players are learning new skills focus on reinforcing their effort. Help them problem solve when they are having difficulty learning a new skill so they don’t start to get frustrated. Remind them it’s ok to make mistakes as that is part of learning. (Persistence, Self-Regulation, Optimism)

6. Game

A game practices the skill of the day in a fun way, with lots of peer-to-peer interaction and a little competition.

Building Block Integration Examples:


  • Physical – Create a safe space, with boundary markers. Mark any field hazards with cones.
  • Safety – When you start to introduce competition, make sure the players still focus on individual improvement


  • Caring Adults – Use names and acknowledge improvement
  • Supportive Peers – Have small groups come up with team names and cheer for each other

Youth Engagement

  • Voice – Have players give each other feedback
  • Choice – Let players pick a progression in the activity (e.g. In relay races let a player pick a specific way the teams must dribble the ball through the cones)
  • Leadership – Have a couple of players demonstrate the activity

Skill Building

  • For Sports – If players are becoming more focused on outcome, remind them success will come if they execute the technique well
  • For Life – Talk to the team about supporting each other and how that skill is important in other areas, like school and family.

Physical Activity

  • Consistent – Limit games that cause players or teams to be eliminated, which leads to inactivity
  • Challenging – Layer in additional variations of the skill so the challenge progressively increases
  • Fun – Include a little competition that doesn’t focus only on winning and losing (e.g. adding up completed passes or how many times the entire team can touch the basketball before scoring a basket)

Character Building Point: As conflicts arise take this opportunity to help players manage their emotions by taking them aside and talking to them. Use the scale indicator to assist them bringing it down to a lower level. Ask players to think about other ways they can handle these issues and provide them with positive feedback around your belief in their capabilities. Stay positive and focus on the effort players are putting forth. (Persistence, Optimism, Self-Regulation)

7. Scrimmage

Always include a scrimmage at practice. Keep coaching points to a minimum. Let them play, and try out the skills they just learned.

Building Block Integration Examples:


  • Physical – Make sure the rules are followed and proper equipment is used
  • Emotional – Referee the scrimmage to keep things fair


  • Caring Adults – Use positive coaching techniques (e.g. lots of encouragement, acknowledgement of effort, encouraging body language)
  • Supportive Peers – Award extra points for sportsmanship demonstrated towards own team and opposition

Youth Engagement

  • Voice – At halftime ask players to evaluate their own performance
  • Choice – Let players choose their team name
  • Leadership – Assign each team a captain

Skill Building

  • For Sports – Provide acknowledgement to players who are applying the skill of the day to the scrimmage
  • For Life – Acknowledge players who are willing to be flexible and play out of their preferred position. Connect this to life and not always getting what we want and how we respond to this.

Physical Activity

  • Consistent – Have substitutes rotate in regularly
  • Challenging – Increase the size of the field. Play full court instead of half court.
  • Fun – Don’t stop the game and coach a lot, let them play versus standing and listening to you

Character Building Point: Be specific with your players around the skills they are trying to improve on. Even if players struggle, make note of the fact they are trying and you are seeing improvement. Remind them that even in competition, it’s important to show kindness to others (even the opponent). Take note of the examples you see of this in the scrimmage and highlight a few of them at the end. Do the same for the other character traits (Persistence, Empathy, Self-Regulation, Optimism).

8. Cool Down

Have the players lightly job. The goal is to gradually bring their heart rate down. Include stretching. Cool down is a great section of practice for players to lead.

Building Block Integration Examples:


  • Physical – Gradually bring the intensity down
  • Emotional – Rotate leaders so all player know they are equally valued


  • Caring Adults – Casually go around and individually check in with players and acknowledge something positive you saw them do at practice
  • Supportive Peers – Partner Stretch and have each pair share something with each other they enjoyed about practice

Youth Engagement

  • Voice – Have players countdown the team stretch
  • Choice – Have players select stretches
  • Leadership – Have a player lead stretching

Skill Building

  • For Sports – Demonstrate proper stretching technique
  • For Life – Connect for players that physically cooling down after practice is great practice for also cooling down emotionally

Physical Activity

  • Consistent – Incorporate a cool down at every practice so players expect it as part of the team’s routine
  • Challenging – Sometimes players lose focus during cool down. Encourage everyone to stay focused.
  • Fun – Incorporate a variety of ways to gradually bring players’ physical and emotional state down

Character Building Points: Reinforce to the team where you saw them being positive. Instead of telling players they did a good job, try to replace “job” with the word “effort” to let them know it’s about the action of trying that is most important.  (Optimism, Persistence, Empathy)

9. Closing Circle

Bring the players together. Ask them how they improved at the skill of the day. Have players recognize a teammate for trying hard. Ask for suggestions on other skills to work on at practice. Use the thumb check as a way to see how your players are doing at the end of practice. Follow up with any players who seem to be having a bad day.

Building Blocks Integration Examples:


  • Physical – Make sure everyone is part of the circle and no one leaves early without proper supervision
  • Emotional – Include everyone in circle, pay extra attention to players’ emotions and how they might have changed during the course of practice


  • Caring Adults – Tell the team how you noticed their effort. If you single players out for acknowledgement, make sure you track this over the season so at some point all players will be publicly recognized
  • Supportive Peers – Have players recognize each other (e.g Ask the team “who saw a teammate trying hard today?)

Youth Engagement

  • Voice – Ask the players what they liked or want to be different about practice
  • Choice – Ask the players what other skills they want to work on
  • Leadership – Have the team captains of the day help you with the equipment

Skill Building

  • For Sports – Debrief with players how they improved at the skill of the day
  • For Life – Debrief any teachable moments

Physical Activity

  • Consistent – N/A
  • Challenging – N/A
  • Fun – N/A

Character Building Points: Try to pick one or two character traits you felt the team did well at and ask players to provide some examples. (e.g. “today I felt like everyone was really positive and taking care of each other, can anyone give me some examples?”) (Empathy, Persistence, Self-Regulation, Optimism)

10. Coach Reflection

An important step to improve your coaching is to reflect on your practices and games. Identify things that went well and areas that can improve. Determine if you need support from your site supervisor or Coaching Corps and make a commitment to seek out that support. Reflect with your fellow coach if you work in pairs. Reflection can happen right after practice once the players have left or at a later time. Just make sure to do it before the next practice so you can implement areas for improvement.
Building Block Integration:Think about how you did on integrating the Building Blocks into your practice. Make a note of any that you did a great job of bringing alive and ones you might improve next time.Character Building Point: Think about how you embodied the four character traits during practice. Are there ways you can improve for the next time? Are there any different ways you can reinforce the traits with your players?

Designing and Running Practice

Using the following tips you can RAISE your practices to another level!

Ready! – When the players show up to practice, be ready to go. This means preparing ahead of time, writing out your practice plan, set-up your equipment, and be ready to greet your team when they arrive.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Demonstrate, or ask a player to demonstrate, the activity or skill.

Instructions – Be clear and concise. Clarify by checking that the team understands. Give 1-2 instructions at a time and have players repeat back key instructions. Use attention getters to get your players’ attentions.

Specific and encouraging feedback – be positive and specific so players feel encourage and learn how to improve their skills (e.g. “That’s a great try Carlo, next time lock your ankle and follow through towards the goal when you shoot”).

Engaging – Be creative and use fun games and a little bit of competition to get players excited about participating. The number one reason kids drop out of youth sports is because they aren’t having fun. Remember, fun also needs to be age and skill level appropriate and not solely focused on winning and losing.

Sample Practice Session

3rd-5th grade –Girls Soccer (4:30-5:30pm)

  • Preparation (day before)
    The day before practice write out practice plan
  • Set-Up (4:15-4:30)
    • Lay out cones in a 25×25 yard grid
    • Set up relay race stations
    • Lay out scrimmage vests for blue and yellow teams
    • Pull soccer balls out of bag
    • As players arrive, greet them, high 5’s, hellos
  • Opening Circle (4:30-4:35)
    • Use a countdown to get everyone in circle (5…4…3…2…1)
    • Ask team how their day is going. Have them show with a thumb check.
    • Review “Core of the Corps” 1. Have fun, 2. Try your best, and 3. Respect yourself and each other.
    • Have a player select which “Core of the Corps” they will focus on today.
    • Tell players we will check in about the “Core of the Corps” throughout and at the end of practice
    • Share skill of the day – dribbling
  •  Warm Up (4:35-4:40)
    • Play partner tag. Rotate through several pairs.
    • Circle players up and Katie and Bianca (captains of the day) lead stretches.
  •  Drill: Everyone Dribbles (4:40-4:50)
    • Keep team in circle (standing inside 25×25 yard grid) and review dribbling key points 1) head up, 2) use both feet 3) keep soccer ball close
    • Have three players demonstrate. Highlight three key points
    • Use cue word and countdown to have players each get a ball and start dribbling inside the grid (e.g. When I say ‘Go’ everyone get a soccer ball and begin dribbling. “GO! 5… 4…3…2…1”)
    • Incorporate different progressions 1) right foot only, 2) left foot only, 3) changes of direction
  • Game: Relay Races (4:50-5:00)
    • Use grouping strategy to divide into 5 groups of 3 players each
    • Assign each group a relay station and have them decide on a team name
    • Demonstrate the first relay (dribble through cones)
    • Have teams do various relays (right foot only, left foot only, dribble through orange cones only, yellow cones only)
    • Keep eye out for groups who always finish last and mix up teams accordingly
  •  Water Break (5:00-5:05)
    • Monitor water break
  •  Scrimmage (5:05-5:20)
    • Set up scrimmage field around relay stations to minimize transition time
    • Divide into two teams using a grouping strategy
    • Assign positions, and rotate accordingly
    • Keep a pile of soccer balls ready so there is no down time
    • After scrimmage: have team collect all equipment using a countdown starting at 10…9…8…7… Katie and Bianca help put equipment in bag.
  • Cool Down (5:20-5:25)
    • Lead team through a cool down version of Simon Says (jog, side to side shuffle, skip, walk)
  • Closing Circle (5:25-5:30)
    • Circle up using countdown
    • Ask team
      • “Who improved their trying hard today?” Have 2-3 players share how they improved.
      • “Who saw a teammate dribbling well today?” Have 1-2 players share who they saw trying hard.
      • What was our Core of the Corps we focus today? How did we see it during practice?
      • “What skill do you want to work on next practice?” Take a couple of suggestions and make a plan to incorporate one idea.
    • Do a thumb check out. Remind team I am always available before and after practice to talk if you need anything.
    • Team Cheer!
  •  Coach Reflection (at home after practice)
    • Review what went well at practice (including Building Blocks and Character Traits)
    • Identify areas for improvement
    • Identify how I can incorporate Building Blocks and Character Traits more
    • Identify players who might need extra support and plan to follow up with them at next practice


Planning a Season

Planning out your season is a great skill for coaches to master. While things will change and it’s important to stay flexible, it is great to have a basic layout to your overall season. Your season plan should focus on sports skills development, integration of the Building Blocks and Character Traits. Here are some tips to plan your season.

  1. Fitness Development – Your players will start the season at varying fitness levels. Many may not have had much opportunity at all to be physically active. Assess fitness levels at the beginning of the season. Consider running the Pacer (Beep) Test to get a baseline fitness reading for each player. Then at the end of the season test the players again to see their improvement. No matter where they start the season, all players should improve their fitness by the end of the season.
  2. Skills Development – Think of your sports’ fundamental skills (e.g. soccer has 1) dribbling, 2) passing, 3) receiving, and 4) shooting). Plan when you will introduce each of these skills over the season. We recommend you return to these skills over and over during the course of the season so players can improve on their mastery. Players will develop at different rates, so remember to support each player around their individual needs.
  3. Connection – Creating a family like atmosphere with your team takes time. Start the season with get to know you activities that build friendships and trust between players. As the season progresses encourage your players to support each other and problem solve together.
  4. Layering – Once you identify POSE to your team, you can use the remainder of the season to layer on new ways for players to practice using them. Use the scenarios in the Character Traits section to provide new opportunities for your players to learn how to implement these important life skills.
  5. Game Day! – If your team doesn’t participate in a league which plays games on a regular basis, incorporate a game day at the end of the season. This is a fun day where players get to show off the skills they have developed over the season. Make it a true community event by inviting parents and families.
  6. Recognition and Celebration – After a great season coaching your team, celebrate your experience! You deserve it! Use one of the following suggestions or create your own:
    • Hold a team party and hand out awards that recognize POSE: persistence, optimism, self-regulation, and empathy
    • Host a family potluck where the team and their families can celebrate the season
    • Write a short note to each player about their contribution to the team
    • Give each player a participation certificate

Age Appropriate Coaching

Knowing where your players are emotionally, physically, and developmentally, will help you coach them more effectively. Most youth of the same age share common characteristics. Being familiar with these can help you:

  • Understand what youth are capable of at different ages so you can make sure your activities are not too easy or too difficult;
  • Avoid judging age-appropriate behavior as bad or immature.

The following developmental information will help you think about age-appropriate ways to coach your players.

Note: Although there are predictable stages of development, remember that young people are individuals.  They move through these stages at their own pace.  Getting to know your players will provide important information about their needs, abilities and limits.

Developmental Characteristics and Coaching Strategies

The following charts are courtesy of Success in Soccer magazine. For more information, visit www.successinsoccer.com(please note that references to ‘soccer’ have been replaced with ‘sports’)

Ages 6-8 (1st -2nd grade)


  • Self-centered perspective
  • Strong urge to move
  • Short attention span
  • Desire to try out new things
  • Desire to play
  • Powerful curiosity and desire to learn
  • Need external positive reinforcement

Coaching Strategies:

  • Make sure all players are moving the majority of practice
  • Keep group games to small numbers (e.g. 1v1, up to 3v3 max)
  • Keep rules to a minimum
  • Remember the 3 L’s (no lines, laps, or lectures)
  • Give lots of praise and encouragement; avoid criticism
  • Reinforce fair play; stop unfair behavior with brief explanation
  • Vary activities, providing something new every 10-15 minutes
  • Give clear and concise instructions
  • Explain then immediately demonstrate
  • Implement no win games
  • Be a strong leader, give clear signals and instructions
  • Treat all players the same with equal attention
  • Keep games flowing; (e.g. have a pile of balls ready to play so there is minimal down time)

Ages 9-10 (3rd-4th grade)


  • Continued belief in own importance
  • Increasing identification with teammates
  • Desire for lots of activity and movement
  • View coach as a model

Coaching Strategies:

  • Keep group games to small numbers (3v3 to 5v5)
  • Start to incorporate games that include teamwork (e.g. relay races, partner exercises)
  • Remember the 3 L’s (no lines, laps, or lectures)
  • Support risk taking without any focus on winning
  • Keep activities simple with few rules
  • Give brief explanations followed immediately with a demonstration
  • Start to ask players basic problem solving questions

Ages 11-12 (5th-6th grade)


  • Team mentality is becoming more important
  • Experiencing the game is more important than winning
  • Increased ability to focus
  • Desire to start taking individual responsibility
  • Improved problem solving ability
  • Onset of puberty means kids are becoming more physically mature
  • Some kids will be bigger, faster and have better coordination than others

Coaching Strategies:

  • Begin to teach basic principles of the sport
  • Encourage group problem solving
  • Incorporate no win games and keep the focus on the fun of playing
  • Remember the 3 L’s (no lines, laps, or lectures)
  • Introduce positions and let all players try each position
  • Let players discover and try out their own solutions
  • Incorporate activities that require a little more concentration

Ages 13-14 (7th-8th grade)


  • Desire for more personal responsibility
  • Increasing identification with the team
  • More likelihood of being influenced by peers
  • Need for individual improvement and development
  • Emotional variation (moodiness)
  • Recognition expected and demanded

Coaching Strategies:

  • Start treating players as partners
  • Be tolerant of mood swings
  • Act as an advisor, providing clear rules and boundaries
  • Model expected behavior
  • Give players more responsibility on and off the field
  • Treat everyone equally, but provide individual encouragement and support
  • Remember the 3 L’s (no lines, laps, lectures)

 Ages 15-16 (9th-10th grade)


  • Increasing mental maturity
  • Increased ability to self-assess
  • Development of individual identity
  • Desire for individual responsibility
  • Searching for the right lifestyle

Coaching Strategies:

  • Treat players more as peers
  • Let players help structure part of practices
  • Train players to assess their own development
  • Be exemplary in your behavior
  • Provide structure in a very clear way, being explicit with clear rules and boundaries
  • Remember the 3 L’s (No lines, laps, lectures)

Ages 17-18 (11th-12th grade)


  • Fully responsible
  • Capacity and need for communication as equals
  • Desire for support in sports and life
  • Identity more firmly established
  • Increased ability to deal with stress

Coaching Strategies:

  • Set common rules and expectations and encourage the team to regulate themselves
  • Speak to players as adults
  • Be available to give advice
  • Promote positive team play while providing opportunity for individual expression
  • Remember the 3 L’s (No lines, laps, lectures)

Energizers and Games

Ice Breaker/Energizer: Everyone Is It

  • How many children can participate? 8-50
  • What age group is it for? 8 and up
  • Length of activity: 10 minutes
  1. Goal: To develop stamina, agility and awareness
  2. Skills Practiced: Agility, evading, strategic thinking
  3. Equipment Needed: None
  4. Set-Up: Designate clear boundaries within which the game is played.
  5. Description: The object is for players to tag as many other players as possible without being tagged. Everyone is actively “it” while also evading other players’ efforts to tag them. Round one, students are trying to tag each other on the back. Round two, students are trying to tag each other on the shoulder. And round three, students are trying to tag each other on the knee (with a word of caution beforehand about safety). It does not matter if you end up getting tagged, just keep on trying to tag others while trying to keep yourself from getting tagged anymore.
    Note: Make sure to go over what is appropriate touch before beginning the first round.

Name Game: Movement Name Game

  • How many children can participate? 5-25
  • What age group is it for? 5 and up
  • Length of activity? 10-15 minutes
  1. Goal: To familiarize and learn the name of everyone in the group
  2. Skills Practiced: Repetition, memorization
  3. Equipment Needed: None
  4. Set-Up: Have the whole group stand in a circle.
  5. Description: The first person begins the circle rotation by loudly saying his/her name while at the same time doing a movement. The whole group repeats back the name and movement. The next person goes. She says her name and does a movement of her own. The whole group repeats back her name and movement. This call-and-response continues around the circle until everyone has gotten a turn.
  6. Demostrations: Facilitator demonstrates saying her name loudly while doing a physical movement and has everyone repeat that back to her.
  7. Variations: For a second rotation, specify the kind of movement the students are to make: a sports movement (e.g., kicking an imaginary soccer ball), must leave the ground, must land on one foot, etc.

Ice Breaker/Energizer: Touch Objects Game

  • How many children can participate? 10-30
  • What age group is it for? 5 and up
  • Length of activity? 10 minutes
  1. Goal: To develop awareness of surroundings
  2. Skills Practiced: Spatial awareness
  3. Equipment Needed: None
  4. Set-Up: Players are standing in a circle.
  5. Description:
    • ROUND 1: Players are directed to touch 5-7 objects in the room in 10 seconds, returning to their spot in the circle when finished. Have them repeat back the list of objects before the countdown begins. Questions After Round 1: Who remembered all 7 objects? Of the objects you touched, who touched all of them without running into anyone else?
    • ROUND 2: A second group of objects is listed. This time instruct your players to touch the objects while making sure not to run into each other. Questions After Round 2: Who was successful not running into anyone?
    • ROUND 3: Four or so different body parts are assigned to touch different objects (head to a door, elbow to a chair, etc.).
    Questions After Round 3: What is this game trying to teach? What was fun about this game? Was there anything frustrating about the game?

Energizer: Wolves and Bunnies

  • How many children can participate? 10-50
  • What age group is it for? 8 and up
  • Length of activity? 10 minutes
  1. Goal: To develop strategies for working as a team
  2. Skills Practiced: Agility, pivoting, throwing and catching, strategic thinking
  3. Equipment Needed: One soft nerf ball for every ten players
  4. Set-Up: Designate clear boundaries within which the game is played (a big space makes it hard to catch the bunnies), have the correct number of balls and choose two players to be the wolves.
  5. Description: The object of the game is for the wolves to work together to tag all the bunnies. They tag the bunnies by touching them with one of the nerf balls. The wolves can travel if they do not hold the nerf ball. When holding the ball, the wolves can only pivot and reach out to tag bunnies. The wolves pass the nerf balls back and forth to each other, trying to set themselves up to tag a bunny. Wolves who are not holding the nerf ball can move anywhere in the playing area to position themselves to tag a bunny when the ball is thrown to them. The bunnies can move all around the play area — their goal is simply to evade being tagged. They are not trying to intercept or get the nerf ball.
  6. Demostrations: Demonstrate how the wolves throw the ball to one another and tag the moving bunnies with the ball. Explain that when a bunny is tagged, it immediately turns into a wolf. Choose six volunteers and designate two wolves and four bunnies to do a short demonstration in slow motion.
  7. Mid-Point Questions: What are the bunnies doing to stay away from the wolves? What are the wolves doing to work together to capture the bunnies? Is there anything the wolves could do differently to capture the bunnies more easily?
  8. Closing Questions: What do you think is the main lesson to be learned in playing this game? How would you change this game to make it more fun, interesting or challenging?

Energizer: Ro Sham Bo Championship

  • How many children can participate? 10-50
  • What age group is it for? 8 and up
  • Length of activity? 5-10 minutes
  1. Goal: To interact with other people and bond as a group
  2. Equipment Needed: None
  3. Set-Up: Make sure everyone understands how ro sham bo (rock paper scissors) works. The paper beats the rock. The rock beats the scissor. The scissor beats the paper. Group team into pairs.
  4. Description: Instruct each pair to play a round of ro sham bo (or enough rounds to break a tie). The student who does not win becomes the winner’s cheerleader, following them and shouting “Go person’s name!” The winner moves on to play another winning person. Each round, the winner advances to play again and the non-winners and any previous cheerleaders are now all cheering for that winner. The game continues this way until it is down to two players who each have part of the whole group cheering for them.

Energizer: Triangle Tag

  • How many children can participate? Groups of 4
  • What age group is it for? 8 and up
  • Length of activity? 5-10 minutes
  1. Goal: To develop strategic thinking, teamwork
  2. Skills Practiced: Evasion, agility, basketball skill of boxing out
  3. Equipment Needed: None
  4. Set-Up: Designate a clear playing area. Divide players into groups of four with three of the four players holding hands in a triangle formation. Explain that the fourth person is “it” and have them identify who in the triangle they will be going after.
  5. Description: The person who is ”it” can move around the triangle to reach the person they are trying to get. They can also reach over the triangle, but cannot break through the triangle’s arms. The triangle must stay in their area (cannot travel around the room) so has to use strategies to protect the person being chased.
    To start play, yell “Go!” The player who is “it” is trying to tag the previously designated person in the triangle. The triangle of players is working to protect this person by moving the triangle in different directions, boxing out, etc. Once the person who is “it” has tagged the other person, have the group switch up roles.
    Note: It is useful if the facilitator calls “Switch!” for role changes fairly quickly and frequently so no one is left chasing someone unsuccessfully for too long.

Name Game: Ball Toss Race

  • How many children can participate? 16-40
  • What age group is it for? 10 and up
  • Length of activity? 5-15 minutes
  1. Goal: To have your players practice working as a team
  2. Skills Practiced: Agility, strategic thinking, teamwork
  3. Equipment Needed: None
  4. Set-Up: Divide your players into four groups.
  5. Description: Have your players line up in their groups, shoulder to shoulder. The four groups should make a box around you — one line of players in front of you, one behind you, one to the right and one to the left. Instruct everyone to note where they are standing in relationship to you and where they are standing in relationship to each other. Explain to them that no matter what direction you are facing they are always to be standing in this place.
    Begin the rounds of this game by simply turning to your right or left. Your players need to quickly reform their original line order, making sure they are also in the right spot in relationship to you. Once each group has correctly reassembled, players are to grasp hands, lift them in the air and yell, “Quick line up!” Change direction again — players are to reassemble according to what direction you are now facing.
  6. Variations: Step out of the square of players and relocate to another area of the field. Players will have to quickly run to you in order to reassemble themselves. Do this several times, changing your location or just your direction.
    Have your teams name themselves and grasp hands and call out their team name.

Energizer: All Tangled Up

  • How many children can participate? 15-30
  • What age group is it for? 12 and up
  • Length of activity? 15 minutes
  1. Goal: To have your players practice working as a team
  2. Skills Practiced: Agility, strategic thinking, teamwork
  3. Equipment Needed: None
  4. Set-Up: Divide your players into small groups of up to twelve people (must be an even number of players per group) and have them form a tight circle.
  5. Description: Tell the players to take their right hand and grab the right hand of anyone in the group except the people standing on either side of them. They are then to extend their left hand and grab someone else’s left hand. The challenge is for the group to untangle itself without letting go of each other’s hands. Emphasize that this is a challenge which may take a lot of talking.
  6. Mid-Point Questions: Is there anything about this game that is particularly difficult? Has anyone discovered any secrets that might help the rest of the group get untangled? Shall we try the game again and time ourselves to see how long it takes to get untangled?
  7. Closing Questions: Was this a difficult game? How did people feel when they found it hard to get untangled? Did anyone get tempted to cheat and just let go of a hand? Is there anything that you would change to make this game better?.
  8. Variations:  Once they get the hang of it, make the groups larger and add restrictions to their communication methods.

Grouping Strategy/Community Building Ice Breaker: Find Somebody Who…

  • How many children can participate? 15-30
  • What age group is it for? 5 and up
  • Length of activity? 10-15 minutes
  1. Goal: Can be used as a grouping strategy, as well as a community building activity
  2. Skills Practiced: Speaking skills, listening skills
  3. Equipment Needed: None
  4. Set-Up: Have the whole group gather in a contained area.
  5. Description: Instructor begins by saying, “Find somebody who…,” filling in the blank (has the same number of brothers and sisters as you, shares the same favorite color as you, was born in the same month as you, is the same or similar height as you, etc.) When students find their partner, they are to decide who is side A and who is side B, and then clasp hands in the air so the teacher knows they are ready. Instructor specifies a particular piece of information A and B are to share with each other (e.g., If you could be any animal, what would it be and why? What is one thing you would change about the school to make it a better place to be? If you could have a magical power, what would it be? Why do you love sports? What do you hope to get out of this season? What is a goal you are setting for this season?). After each person has had a chance to speak, the instructor begins a second round of “Find Somebody Who…” Three rounds are optimal.

Community Building: If You Really Knew Me

  • How many children can participate? 4-30
  • What age group is it for? 10 and up
  • Length of activity? 10-15 minutes
  1. Goal: To share information about oneself and to learn about teammates
  2. Skills Practiced: Speaking skills, listening skills
  3. Equipment Needed: None
  4. Set-Up: Pair everyone up. Have each pair decide who is A and who is B.
  5. Description: Explain that Students A will listen silently to Students B for one minute. Students B will finish off the sentence, “If you really knew me, you would know that…” What they decide to share about themselves is up to them. It can range from:
    • Family information – “If you really knew me you would know that I am the youngest of four siblings.”
    • School information – “If you really knew me you would know that my favorite topic in school is Art.”
    • Favorite/least favorite things – “If you really knew me you would know that I love macaroni and cheese and hate broccoli.”
    • Whatever else they care to share
    After the minute is up, instruct them to change roles, and Students A become the speakers.

Positive Behavior Management


The first and most important step in prevention is to support positive behavior.  Many coaches dwell on behavioral challenges without thinking about what they are doing to get kids to behave positively.  90% of behavior management is about supporting positive behavior. The four key elements of supporting positive behavior are:

  1. Build positive Relationships,
  2. Provide clear Instruction,
  3. Transition from one activity to the next smoothlyand
  4. Engage players with fun and appropriately challenging activities.



Kids feel:  “I am cared for.”

  • Coach builds relationships with each youth
  • Learn names quickly
  • Get to know each youth as an individual
  • Give specific, positive (and constructive) feedback
  • Play with them, laugh and smile
  • Coach helps youth build relationships with each other
  • Use energizers, icebreakers and games
  • Have time for personal check-in (e.g., Thumb Check-In)
  • Include relationship questions in your debriefing (e.g., who saw someone else trying hard? Who saw someone else improve?)
  • Use unifying team rituals (e.g., counting out loud when stretching, team cheers)
  • Teach players how to give positive and constructive feedback to each other
  • React quickly to prevent put-downs, bullying or cliques
  • Know when to get out of the way and let kids play with each other


Kids feel:  “I know what I am supposed to be doing.”

  • Give clear, easy-to-follow instructions
  • Make sure instructions are concise (short and to the point)
  • Give only 1-2 instructions at a time
  • Ask players to repeat back instructions as a whole group where appropriate (e.g., “Which group, group one or group two, is going to sprint to the cone first?”)
  • Ask players if they have any questions
  • Use visual demos


Kids feel:  “I am engaged at all times.”

  • Use energizers, icebreakers and games
  • Use attention getters instead of yelling for players’ attention
  • Use games and activities you can use as “fillers”. For example, when players will be finishing a task at different times, have players juggle the soccer ball while teammates finish the dribbling activity
  • Have a clear, ritualized way that you always begin practice (e.g., when players arrive at baseball practice, they always throw and catch with a teammate, then the coach circles the team up when ready to start)
  • Have a clear, ritualized way that you always end practice (e.g., always close with a team cheer)


Kids feel:  “I am having fun, learning, and enjoying practice.”

  • Introduce new and appropriately challenging activities that keep youth feeling like they are learning and improving
  • Vary your practices so the players are not doing the same thing all the time
  • Make sure you have enough equipment and/or design drills so players are not standing in long lines waiting to do the skill
  • Sometimes give your team a choice (e.g., give the team three different shooting drills and let them pick which one they want to do)
  • Don’t rely only on drills; include games and scrimmages to make it fun
  • Create opportunities for youth to be leaders (e.g., warm-up leaders, equipment)

Tricks of the Trade

Unintended chaos (and accompanying frustration) at practice usually occurs during the brief moments between activities. To help your practices run more smoothly use the Coaching Corps Group Management Tricks of the Trade. Identify which strategies you are most comfortable using, introduce them in your first practices, and then return to them over and over again throughout the season. Practices will flow better and disruptions and behavior issues will be minimized. To remember the Tricks of the Trade all you have to do is play a game of TAG! (Transitions, Attention Getters, Grouping Strategies).


These will move a group from one location or activity to the next with minimal chaos.

  • “Monica is the head of the dragon and Justin is the tail. Everyone else is in the body of the dragon. When I yell ‘Dragon!’ form the dragon as quickly as possible…Dragon!” (with older youth, say “Monica is the front of the line and Justin is the back of the line, everyone else line up between Monica and Justin”)
  • “Bump your volleyball to your partner two more times, then join me in a circle. You have ten seconds…nine…eight…”
  • As you are moving from one area to another (down the hallway, from a circle to the baseball diamond, etc.) you call, “1+1 is…” They respond “2!” You call, “2+2 is…” They respond, “4!” “4+4 is…”
  • As students are coming together, give them two choices from which they yell out their preference. Keep naming choices until everyone is rounded up. “What do you prefer, summer or winter?” “What team do you prefer, Madrid or Barcelona?” “What do you prefer, strawberries or blueberries?”
  • Attention Getters also help youth focus and make transitions.

Attention Getters

These are strategies to capture players’ attention, begin or end activities, or create breaks and transitions between activities.

  • “Form a circle in 5 (clap, clap)…4 (clap, clap)…3 (clap, clap)…2 (clap, clap)…1 (clap, clap).”
  • “If you can hear my voice clap once. If you can hear my voice clap twice. If you can hear my voice clap three times.”
  • “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand FREEZE!”
  • Call and response rhythm clap. Coach creates a rhythm clap and the players clap the rhythm back.
  • “If you hear my voice, touch your head, if you hear my voice, touch your knees, if you hear my voice, touch your shoulders.”
  • “How many fingers do I have up?” (Briefly hold up several fingers.) “How many fingers do I have up?” (Briefly hold up a different number of fingers. Continue until you have their attention.)

Grouping Strategies

Creative tricks will help get youth into different groupings (one group, two teams, multiple smaller groups or pairs).

  • To get everyone into one large group:

“Circle up in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

  • To break into smaller groups:

“If you were born in January, February or March line up at the red cone. If you were born in April, May or June line up at the yellow cone…”

“Get into pairs, get into groups of five, get into groups of eight, get into groups of three…” (Keep going until you get players into the number of teams you want or until they are grouped into the right number.)

“Football, Tennis, Baseball; Football, Tennis, Baseball …” (Count off the whole group to make sub-groups.)

  • To break the group into two teams:

“Apple, orange, apple, orange, apple, orange, etc… All apples make a circle over here. All oranges make a circle over there.”

  • To get everyone into pairs:

“Lizard, frog, lizard, frog, etc… Now, every lizard find a frog.”


Left to their own devices, youth will group in one of two ways:

  • They will scramble to get the ‘best’ players on their team, leaving some to feel incredibly self-conscious about their skill level.
  • They will group with their friends, again leaving some out and creating divisions in the team.

Grouping strategies play a big role in minimizing these patterns and ensuring that everyone is fully and equally involved.

Be sure to mix up how you count off groups so youth at the far end of the line don’t rearrange themselves to control what team they are on (e.g. yellow, orange, blue, blue, yellow, orange).

All of the above strategies can be used with all age groups. The key to success is in the delivery. While a countdown for 10-year-olds as a way to circle them up works as a game for this age, for 16-year-olds, it can simply be a reminder to hustle.

Responsive Intervention

Of course, not all behavior issues are preventable. Even the most seasoned and prepared coach can struggle with players’ behavior challenges. These players can take your attention away from the team and often can lead you to feel frustrated. Something to always remember when encountering behavior challenges with your players is that young people usually don’t misbehave just to break the rules or cause problems. Rather, they are usually acting out because they have an unmet need. For example, a youth may argue with another player because she lacks attention elsewhere and your practice might be the place she feels she can seek this attention. This outward expression of unmet needs may be inappropriate, harmful to others, interrupt practice, or just be plain annoying and we may want to ignore it, punish it, or let her get away with it. However, in order to support young people’s growth, while teaching them accountability, it requires you to identify what the unmet need is. When we ask these questions: “What rule did Andrea break?” or “What did Andrea do wrong?” we are reacting to a broken rule versus identifying the underlying reason Andrea broke the rule. Instead if we ask, “What is going on for Andrea that caused her to act that way?” or “What do I think Andrea needs that she is not getting elsewhere?” you come up with much more constructive responses. This does not mean coaches shouldn’t hold young people responsible for their actions. It is the combination of holding them accountable (helping them understand the impact they have had on others) while providing them the support they need that will help change their behavior.

Approaches to Discipline

Discipline can take many different forms. Two factors – how much a young person is held accountable for his actions and how much support he is offered — define these different approaches. The Social Discipline Window (below) illustrates four different approaches.

  • Support and accountability axes refer to how much support the adult is giving the player and how much they are holding the player accountable for their actions.
  • Ideally, a coach should use strategies that land her in the Reasoning Quadrant.

A coach who is PUNITIVE:

  • Does things TO his players
  • Holds players very accountable for their actions and spends little time supporting them or trying to identify any unmet needs
  • Shames and blames players, even if unintentionally
  • Believes he can use punishment to change players’ behavior (e.g. running four laps is so undesirable that it will make players listen to me when I’m speaking)

In the Punitive approach a player is often left feeling victimized or resentful, therefore it is very difficult for them to learn new behaviors.

A coach who is PERMISSIVE:

  • Does everything FOR his players
  • Excuses unacceptable behavior
  • Is concerned about being supportive of his players at the expense of teaching life lessons and holding young people accountable to their behavior

The permissive approach does not help young people learn new and more appropriate ways to express their needs.

A coach who is NEGLECTFUL:

  • Does NOT do anything
  • Does nothing to step in and provide healthy boundaries or support.

The Neglectful approach gives the extremely harmful message that the coach has given up on the player.

A coach who is REASONING:

  • Works WITH her players to ensure they learn and grow
  • Helps players take responsibility for their actions (e.g. after being disruptive during a practice, a coach and her player decide the best thing the player can do is return to practice the next day ready to express to the whole team how his actions negatively affected his teammates) while also uncovering underlying needs (e.g. during the conversation after practice the coach finds out that her player, unusually disruptive during practice, just learned a visit the player was anticipating with his father was not going to happen).

The Reasoning approach can make players happier, more cooperative and productive. Players are more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when coaches do things WITH them, rather than TO them or FOR them.

The Social Discipline Window is courtesy of International Institute for Restorative Practices. Much of our work on positive behavior management and, specifically, the concept of responsive intervention, have been greatly influenced by the work of IIRP. For more information, visit iirp.org.

The Four S’s
Identifying Unmet Needs and Reasoning Strategies

In order for kids to learn and grow they desire the Four S’s:

  1. Self-Determination – The need for independence and the ability to make their own choices and try things out on their own
  2. Sense of Belonging – The need to feel accepted and cared for by others (teammates, coaches, family ect…)
  3. Skills – The need to feel competency and an improvement progression
  4. Stimulation – The need to participate in meaningful activities that are fun and relevant based on age and skill level

Unmet needs around the Four S’s can take on certain behavioral characteristics. The following lays out some of these characteristics and provides some strategies to try with your players.


Might look like

  • Angry at others
  • Uncooperative
  • Stubborn
  • Doesn’t want to participate

Try this

  • Ask player to voice opinion in a structured way
  • Implement player suggestions
  • Give player the space to try new ways of implementing a skill
  • Ask player to demonstrate

Sense of Belonging

Might look like

  • Acts out, causing disruption
  • Shows indifference towards others
  • Argumentative
  • Instigates bad behavior or fights with teammates

Try this

  • Include team check in at opening circle
  • Incorporate teambuilding and get to know you activities
  • Demonstrate fairness with all players
  • Use grouping strategies to negate cliques and demonstrate to team that everyone is equal


Might look like

  • Stops trying when unsuccessful
  • Says “this is stupid” about activities
  • Stops participating
  • Encourages others to not participate or misbehave

Try this

  • Incorporate fundamental skill building that meets players’ age and skill level
  • Manage competitive games so players are not singled out for lack of skill
  • Immediately respond to teasing around ability level
  • Incorporate individual improvement games and skill tests that compare performance to own self versus other players


Might look like

  • Acting bored
  • Lack of effort
  • Side conversations while coach is talking
  • Off task

Try this

  • Incorporate appropriate activities based on skill level and age of players
  • Provide leadership opportunities
  • Ask players what activities they want to play