A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Building all-round players with NCAA legend and coach CHARLOTTE SMITH
By Greg Bach
Charlotte Smith sank one of the greatest shots in the history of college basketball – men’s and women’s – a buzzer-beating three-pointer in the ’94 national championship game to give North Carolina a 60-59 win over Louisiana Tech.
But less publicized was the fact that she also grabbed an astounding 23 rebounds in that championship game on her way to being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
Smith excelled in all aspects of the game – and loved being a difference maker in so many areas.
And the Elon University head women’s basketball coach encourages you to help your young players embrace all those less-glamourous aspects of the game that can be instrumental in swinging the game day results in your favor.
After all, you want kids diving for loose balls and taking charges to create extra scoring opportunities for your team, right?
“Players take what you emphasize to be what is important,” says Smith, who spent the past summer as an assistant coach on the USA Women’s U18 National Team. “So we try to emphasize a lot of the intangible things, a lot of the non-glamorous things.”
Because they really matter.
They track stats like diving on the floor and taking charges – things players are willing to do that don’t draw the attention that accompanies scoring a basket but that are crucial to the team’s success.
“We grade a lot of different categories and at the end of the game whoever has the most points in terms of those statistics gets a stuffed animal that we present,” Smith says. “So those non-glamorous things we emphasize how important they are.”
So what a great approach to take – and implement – with your youth teams. It can be a stuffed animal like Smith uses, or get creative and come up with some other token that can easily be presented from game to game throughout the season acknowledging players for their effort.
You might be surprised just how hard the kids will work to earn that special recognition.
ARE YOU TEACHING – OR YELLING?
“My advice for youth coaches is to give their players confidence and to be great teachers,” Smith says. “I think the craft of teaching has been lost in the game and there is a lot more criticizing and yelling than there is teaching. As coaches, we all have to understand that we have a great responsibility to the game that so many people love. And we want to encourage people to participate in sports because there are so many benefits to sports and we don’t want to discourage them.”
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
When things aren’t going well a young athlete’s mind can become cluttered with negative thoughts, affecting confidence and compromising their ability to perform.
So, helping players wade through the destructive thinking and be positive in the face of adversity is an important coaching skill to possess.
“Our thoughts are always talking to us so on our team we have what we call words of affirmation,” Smith explains. “Those words affirm who we are as people and they affirm who we are as a team. Everybody on the team has words of affirmation and every day at the end of practice in our huddle we say those words. This past year mine were ‘We are champions.’ Others had ‘we are powerful,’ ‘we are strong,’ and ‘we have heart.’ Those are things that help create a positive and encouraging atmosphere.”
The pace of your practices is important. So are the drills you choose to use.
“You have to figure out drills that are not only impactful but engaging,” Smith says. “And then you have to structure your practice in a way where it doesn’t get monotonous and boring. We try to do everything pretty much in four-minute increments so that we are transitioning from one drill to the next so it doesn’t become monotonous.”
TEACHING AND MODELING CHARACTER
Smith stresses HEART with her team, which represent their five pillars of success: Honesty, Excellence, Attitude, Respect and Trust.
“A lot of times your actions speak a lot louder than your words so it’s one thing to talk about these things but it’s another thing to live them so I just try to be a walking example of that which I expect of them,” Smith says. “We talk about these things every day and one of the things that I learned from my college coach was the importance of emphasizing your standards and your vision for the team.”
Dr. Katherine Tamminen was the lead author of a study on helping adolescent athletes cope with stress. Use her insight to help your young athletes understand stress, manage it, and excel on game day.
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