“Professionalism” isn’t a word associated quickly with coaching youth and high school sports. Hearing that word conjures visions of men in suits around a conference table. Regardless of the connotations, professionalism is a much-needed trait in coaches of young children. In coaching, professionalism isn’t about mere appearance (you don’t have to wear a suit!), or even knowledge and playing experience. It’s about your approach. Here are a few ways to ensure a professional approach to youth sports.

1. Be organized. Everyone knows when the coach is unorganized. Everyone. And they talk about it behind his back. There is something surprisingly refreshing about a coach who is organized. He gains respect. People listen more closely. His program and/or team run more efficiently. So, plan ahead, not in the moment. Stay ahead of the curve. Communicate. Be prepared for the unexpected. Create and stick to a practice plan (time segments, group work, based on previously identified objectives for your team). Be sure you know who will play where in the games and how defensive rotations will work…before you get to the park. Be organized, to a fault.

2. Complain up, not down. This year, I’m serving as a league president. Nothing is more gratifying than when a coach in our league addresses his complaints (or that of his team) directly to me FIRST, before he talks about it to the parents of his players. As a leader, whether you are a coach or a league organizer, complaints will come your way. Be sure they go up, not down. Be sure to absorb and deflect as many as you can for your superiors (don’t sell them out!). If you are a parent who has a complaint about the coach, a coach who has a complaint about the league…go to the person directly and privately. Fight the urge to voice your complaint to everyone who will listen. Complain up, not down. Complain privately (and sanely), not publicly (never in front of others). Complaining up, not down, is a professional approach to youth sports.

3. Maintain a united front. You may disagree with your head coach or your league president. But, the least you can do is not drag the kids and parents into it. Have discussions privately and agree to disagree if that’s what it takes. If you determine you simply cannot be “on the same page” publicly, perhaps it’s time to part ways. Even parting ways can be done professionally and with class.

Take a moment and consider how professional is your approach to coaching.

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