What should a coach care about most: winning, teaching, or giving everyone a chance to play? We asked our readers this question, and hundreds of you replied. Here's what you told us.
Winning Isn't Everything
Winning was a loser in our survey: Only 9% of you said a coach should care most about winning. "When you are a good coach, winning or losing is secondary to you. You care more about the morale of your team," said Daniel, 13.
Most of you respect coaches who put winning in perspective and teach players it's just one part of the game. Naturally, you want to win — but you also want the enjoyment of playing well, learning, and working as a team. Kim, 13, told us, "A good coach isn't obsessed with winning but will motivate you and your team to want to win."
But few of you are driven to win above all else. "The best lesson I learned from a coach is that losers give it their best, but winners succeed," Brett, 16, said. Brett is realistic about the fact that some parents and coaches can push kids too hard, though. "If I were a coach, I would find out who wants to play and who is playing because of their parents."
Winning seemed to be slightly more important to guys than girls in our survey: 17% of the guys who answered said coaches should care most about winning compared to only 7% of girls.
You Want to Improve Your Skills
So what should your coach care about most? Giving everyone a chance to play received the most votes from girls. Guys voted for teaching new skills. But when girls' and guys' votes were combined, it was pretty much a coin toss: 45% of you think your coach should teach new skills and 46% said giving everyone a chance to play should be most important.
What's in and what's out when it comes to coaching a player or a team? You told us about the qualities you like (and don't like) in coaches and what you'd do if you were in their shoes.
A coach has to understand a player's weaknesses and strengths. "They need to know the sport and the athletes well enough to make good choices for the athlete," said Shannon, 14.
Talent for building a player's confidence is also important. Lots of you told us about coaches who have turned your game around. When Aerielle, now 13, played soccer in third grade she was small and skinny and the other kids always picked on her. "One day the coach sat next to me and said that, even though I couldn't kick the ball down the field, I was fast enough to be at the other end to receive it. She said that I should forget about what other people think and stick to what I try to do, what I can do, what I like, and who it all makes me. The rest of that season I was the best midfielder on the team and even was chosen to go to the All-Star game."
So how would you work with your players? Cordellia, 13, said, "I would start by asking the kids what their goals are. Then talk with them and lay out a plan for the whole year."
"I'd make sure I saw them as a person with hopes, dreams, and fears rather than just another one of my athletes," said Molly, 13.
Coaches Should Be Tough But Fair
Coaches who are realistic and honest about what a person can achieve — even when it's hard — are the kinds of coaches you look up to. Stephanie, 13, told us a good coach has "the ability to tell you the straight truth or facts without making you feel bad."
Jessica, 14, said that when her coach told her she didn't make the team, "He told me why and what I could do to improve, and he said it in a great way. I learned there's a bad way to give an athlete bad news and there's a good way."
You want a coach who pushes you to reach your goals in the right way. "A coach shouldn't be too easy with the 'it's just a game, go have fun' stuff. He should train the team hard — but encourage instead of yelling," said Spence, 13.
How would you handle things as a coach? "I'd let them know they're doing well but not so much to make them overconfident," said Katie, 14. Most of you wouldn't be afraid to get tough when it's needed. Melissa, 15, said, "I'd let them know that if they're not doing their job, they're gonna get a little talking." Kelly, 13, said, "you can't be too nice or you get no respect."
Coaches Should Teach Life Skills Along With Sports Skills
"Besides just coaching, they share wisdom and insight on life based on personal experience," said Alex, 15, who told us about his high school wrestling coach. "It helps having someone besides a parent that's an adult that you can talk to in some situations."
Katie, 14, learned the power of positive thinking from her coach, something she can apply to other areas of her life. "If you mess up you have to shake it off and get focused again. Always think about what you will do, not what you won't."
Most of you said the best lesson you'd learned from a coach is "never give up." Charley, 16, told us, "We all have bad days and bad competitions and it's OK to be upset, but when you wake up the morning after, you need to set new goals and have a new focus."
So what would you do? "If I was a coach, I would train my players hard," said Monique, 16. "But I would be willing to help any of the players with schoolwork or problems."
Coaches Should Make It a Team Effort
Working toward a goal as a team is a priority for you (even if the team's just you and your coach). And coaches who treat players with respect, as equals, win your praise. "A good coach will listen to the team's ideas," said Kelsey, 14.
"A good coach understands that respect is to be earned and understands that they do not control the team, they are part of the team," said Rebecca, 13.
So what team-building skills would you use as a coach? Tom, 17, told us he would use the good side of peer pressure to get players to motivate each other. Annie, 14, said, "I would not let my players feel like they are the weakest link."
Coaches who play favorites are definitely high on your lists of "what's out" in coaching. Jessica, 14, thinks a good coach is "one who does not recruit others just because of their skills but takes those who actually tried out and works with them to improve."
"They have to want you to succeed and not choose favorites," said Katie, 14. Spence put it more bluntly: "A good coach should be fair and not be all about his or her little junior sports stars."
How would you play fair if you were a coach? "Not just focus on a particular person who is maybe a little better than the rest, although I would help them get to their full potential," said Tara, 14. And Kelly, 14, told us, "I would only start the ones who show up for practice."
Coaches Shouldn't Yell or Put Players Down
Another coaching no-no is yelling and making players feel bad. "A coach shouldn't bring down your self-esteem," said Rosie, 16. Dennis, 15, said, "I think a good coach is someone who doesn't get mad if you lose or make a mistake but he pushes you to the limit."
As with everything in coaching, balance is key. "It takes being hard on the team, but not to where they can't stand you as a coach," said Stephanie, 13.
Rebecca, 13, told us, "A good coach understands that different people have different learning patterns and doesn't stick to one forceful method to draw out a person's talent just because that worked before."
So if you were a coach, how would you motivate your players? "When they messed up during a game I would just blow it off," said Tyler, 15. "Players don't need to feel nervous and put down at the same time."
Bad Coaches Can't Teach or Don't Give It Their All
"I have a coach who doesn't know a thing about baseball but he still tries to act like he does," said Tyler. "He shows up in a suit and tries to coach us from the fence. A coach needs to have just as much heart as his players."
"It's not experience that makes a coach great (although it does help); it's the quality of their coaching," said Brynn, 13. She told us about one soccer coach who taught her skills like how to develop her endurance. Thanks to his strong coaching, Brynn got onto a club team. Her new club coach had a lot more practice as a player than her former coach. But she wasn't able to teach skills as well. "Although she had lots of experience and could really move the ball, she had no coaching qualities. She was a player, not a coach."
Daniel, 14, agreed. "A coach has to make sure they're actually coaching, and not just playing with the players or doing it to improve their own physical fitness."
"A good coach coaches for the love of the game, not for the publicity," said Nick, 14.
One message came through loud and clear in our survey: Sports are supposed to be fun, and coaches need to do what they can to keep them that way.
Almost all of you wanted your coaches to have a sense of humor. "My soccer coach is a role model; you can crack jokes on him and he will crack them back," said Kelly, 14.
We had way more suggestions on what coaches should do to keep sports fun than we had on any other topic. Team events — pizza dinners, team outings, that kind of thing — are big. Nina, 14, said that if she were a coach, she'd take her team to a theme park for a good time.
You also had ideas on fixing the stuff that wasn't so fun about your sports. Team drills can be boring, and you'd try to figure out a way to make them fun. "I would have at least one drill in which the kids choose what they want," said Aerielle, "And do a variety of drills, not just the same ones over and over again." Katelyn, 16, said, "My basketball coach would never punish us with running because he saw no point in making us hate something we should love."
But you're realistic — sometimes practice needs to be routine. Bianca, 13, said the best lesson her coach taught her is, "The fun things are fun, but the boring stuff is what you learn from." Madison, 15, offered this advice, "You practice more than three times the amount that you play in a game, and if you're dreading practice, the sport isn't for you. Find something that you love unconditionally, all the time!"
A good coach supports, rewards, teaches, and makes a sport fun. For most of you, that motivates a team to win more than anything else. As Katelyn said, "hearing what you suck at never inspired anyone."