As coaches, we all want to get right into drills and what we need our players to work on to play at their best. After all, it is our job to make athletes the best they can be and in doing so, many times as we’ve seen happen in youth sports, we lose the fun. The kids come dragging to practice or physically being dragged to practice by parents. In most youth sports organizations, there is a fee required which tends to make attendance stable. However, in many nonprofit sports programs like WINNERS, there is no fee to play. What this means is that EVERYTHING we do has to be enjoyable for the kids, or simply put, there’s no incentive to attend. I believe that is why each year we are growing exponentially in size, to a significant part because others are noticing how much FUN our players are having. I wanted to share some of these practices so that you can bring them to your organization no matter the sport or activity!

1.       Music makes everything better!! We invested in an outdoor speaker with HUGE sound, and low cost (Ion Speaker) and we have it playing during as many programs as we can. Even if only plays during warm up, it will put your players in a better mood and more excited for practice (which will make them play better!).

2.       LISTEN to the players. After each program, we pass out surveys to our players (which they always dread). We asked our players why they like lacrosse and received the following answers:

From this image, we can see that the players like playing games the most. However, with games all over the city, many of the players had difficulty attending. This Giving Tuesday we are reaching out to our supporters to help provide our players with game transportation to help more kids do what they love – play games! Get creative; there are a ton of ways you can put the power back into the hands of the players.

3.       Do another activity, can be sports or non-sport related. I’ll always appreciate the many random games we played together in college, from the game show themes to watching football games together to scavenger hunts to intense beach volleyball games. My Stanford coaches were great at knowing when things were getting intense and we needed a break. My statement prior goes well with number two, but along with listening you need to pay attention to your players. You can tell a lot just by looking at them!

4.       Never shy away from a surprise. I can’t even begin to describe the power this has on your players. Telling your kids only to bring their running shoes to practice and then taking them to get a team breakfast, or warming up with relays instead of the usual routine. Again, there’s a lot of room for creativity. You have to be careful here, though, can’t surprise them too much then they’ll expect it!!

5.       Finally, don’t be too serious or distant all the time! We all know you’re the boss, but your players will play better when they know YOU and can play for YOU. When I was able to get to know my coaches beyond the lacrosse field, it made a huge difference on so many teams. Not only were we more comfortable talking to coach about anything, but they knew us and how to coach us better!

The bottom line is sports are about having FUN, and athletes play better when they can do this! Let us know how these tips helped you! Put a smile on; your players will too! :)