Coaching with a purpose: Navy's head coach on teaching life values

Coaching with a purpose: Navy's head coach on teaching life values


By Greg Bach

Teaching skills, plays and strategies are on every volunteer coach’s to-do list.

But what about those oh-so-important life values?

Are you carving out time to teach them to your young athletes, too?

“At the youth level it’s got to be about more than just teaching the X’s and O’s and it has to be about more than wins and losses,” says Ken Niumatalolo, the head football coach at Navy. “It’s about the development of character, hard work, teamwork, selflessness and those kinds of things.”

If these aren’t on your radar you’re wasting an incredible opportunity to impact young lives.

“Sometimes at that age if it’s more about wins and losses and trophies kids lose sight of the fact of what’s really important,” Niumatalolo says. “And I think guys start to focus on things that really don’t matter in the long run.”

SportingKid Live spoke with Niumatalolo, who guided the Midshipmen to a school-record 11 wins last season, to get his take on impacting young lives as a volunteer coach.


For a lot of kids you’re coaching this could be one of their first ventures into sports, so it’s on you to make sure they’ll want to come back and play again the following season.

That means when mistakes are made – remember, they’re kids and they’re going to make a lot of them! – how you approach correcting them is important.

“It can never be personal,” Niumatalolo says. “You can always be demanding, but not demeaning. Especially at the youth level because it’s the first contact with sports for so many and if it can be a positive one it can be very influential for them. So tell kids the truth without doing it in a way that puts them down, continue to encourage them and be positive in your feedback.”


Your players are watching every move you make.

So if you truly want them to learn some really powerful life lessons it all starts with you and how you’re conducting yourself.

“I think a big part of it is your own life and the way you live,” Niumatalolo says. “If you’re a guy who doesn’t want your team to cheat you have to do what’s right yourself. Even at the youth level the kids can see the way you conduct yourself and the way you are with the referees. If coaches are yelling at the referees what are the kids supposed to think? So as a youth coach first and foremost teach off your example of who you are as a person.”


Kids will play different positions and have different roles on the team.

And it’s on you to make sure they embrace them and genuinely feel their contributions are appreciated.

“It’s being able to find a role for everybody and I think a big part of it is teaching that everybody on a team has different roles,” Niumatalolo says. “Not everybody is going to make all the baskets in basketball, or score all the goals in soccer, or pitch in baseball or softball, but there are other roles that are just as important.”

The better you are delivering these messages the more prepared the kids will be for real world scenarios in the future.

“It helps them learn life skills that not everybody is the president of the company,” Niumatalolo says. “Everybody has different roles in life, and in coaching if you do more than just teach the technical part of it by teaching more of the life values, that definitely helps young people.”

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