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AHU Coach’s Corner: Coaching teenagers – not a simple task, but rewarding

 

mike_bowmanYour job goes far beyond the x’s and o’s of the sport.

You are with them during a crucial time in their lives, where they will be faced with tougher decisions than perhaps any other time. Peer pressure, social media, hormone imbalance, and inexperience lead to questionable decision making at times. You also spend more time with them than their own parents, in some cases, by the nature of the sport.

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As a coach, you are often a trusted, respected adult for the players, who may be afraid to approach their parents, teachers or counselors with questions about drugs and alcohol. You can help teenagers make decisions that will steer them down the right path, avoiding a lot of tough lessons in life. However, it’s not as easy and clear a job as it might seem, mentoring youth.

It’s often important to allow young people to ultimately make their own decisions and own the consequences. The best you can do is explain to them what they are getting into, the ramifications of the decisions they can make, and how it affects not only them, but other people as well – not only how it may affect them now, but what it might mean down the road. Education and advice are the best remedies to limiting destructive behavior. It’s tough for young men and women to hear “No” or “You can’t” and just accept it. It’s in their DNA to test the limits or revolt, especially those who were not raised with the fear of doing the wrong things.

Providing alternatives for teens is a great way to distract them from the bad vices that are available to them. Occasionally, take it upon yourself and coaching staff to schedule and plan team or group activities that consist of good, clean fun.

Unfortunately, at times, the organizers amongst peer groups are people that organize to control. They often want to bring people into their circles and do things which are not legal or acceptable, but by adding more people to the activities, it somehow validates the behavior to them. The teenagers who are more driven and organized are generally not gathering large followings with them. They understand that in order to be the best, you have to separate yourself from the pack. They also understand that what they are trying to accomplish is uncommon — it’s not for everybody. They are willing to make the tough choices and sacrifices to get ahead, realizing it will pay off in some way down the road. Often times, these young men and women will either be by themselves or with 1-2 people with similar ambitions and goals. The pack they run with tells you the image they have of themselves.

As a coach, observe and identify the different personalities on your team. Get to know your players, and find out a little more about the circle of friends they keep. You can be a major influence in their lives not to go down the wrong path, or to start going down the right path. Pay attention to behavioral changes, mood swings, and consider external circumstances. Make sure your players know that you are there for them to talk to if they ever have any problems they want to speak about. Be a mentor so that these players will go on in life to represent you and your values as if they were your own kids.

At the end of the day, regardless of the final score of the games or the position in the standings, you will have developed a group of winners.

Mike Bowman is the head coach and general manager of the Phoenix Knights Tier II junior team in the Western States Hockey League.