Coaching tools

Any veteran coach will tell you, offseason is never really “off”. There is a lot to do, and our years usually blend together.  Check out this straightforward checklist of Coaching Tools to use during your offseason and accomplish in order to save you time when the season starts.

Coaching Tool #1: Take a break!

This is first for a reason. One of the most important things you need to do during the offseason is step away from being a coach and take care of yourself. I don’t know about all of you, but I was often wrapping up end-of-season finances, working on senior gifts for the banquet, and publishing tryout information all at once. So even if you only have a precious few days off in between seasons, do something just for you that has nothing to do with coaching. Self-care is essential for you as a human being, but it also makes you a better coach.

Coaching Tool #2: Reflect on last season and learn from your mistakes

I’ve talked about it before, but it’s worth repeating: taking time for self-reflection is an ESSENTIAL tool for coaches. If you don’t spend time reflecting on your most recent season you’re wasting so much opportunity for growth and success.

Click to grab your copy of the 20 Reflection Questions!

Take time to check in on your success and triumphs. What are you most proud of? Also, take a hard look at what didn’t go well this year. Think about the lessons you’ve learned and come up with a clear strategy to ensure you are applying those lessons to next season. (Want to go a step further? Have your CAPTAINS reflect too!)

However, if you view your mistakes and failures as an opportunity for growth, they aren’t really failures. Rather they are hard lessons that teach you something important and valuable. I definitely made my share of mistakes over the years and I’m not afraid to admit it. We aren’t perfect, but if you don’t learn from your mistakes, you are hurting yourself and your team. Here are my biggest mistakes.

Coaching Tool #3: Meet with any assistant coaches / A.D. / Spirit Coordinator

I coached for the first 6 years by myself, and I often felt like I was on an island. Making choices alone, reflecting alone, planning alone; it can be very isolating. The latter half of my career I was blessed with fantastic assistant coaches who made everything so much better. If you too are blessed to have a tribe of people around you, take time during the offseason to have a meeting and check-in. (Wine optional but encouraged!)

Share your reflections from your worksheet and see where you agree and where things diverge. Your JV coach may have a very different view of competition season than you did, so sit down and listen to what she has to say. Discuss your roles for next year and see if you need to make any big changes. Who was in charge of finances? Which Coach registered everyone for competitions? Who handled team dinners? Do you all feel like things were equitable, or do you need a redistribution of efforts?

project planning tool

Focus on everyone’s strengths and make sure everyone gets a piece of the fun stuff and everyone chips in on the grunt work. Equity in decision-making is one of the best predictors of a lasting and successful working relationship.

If you don’t have assistant coaches (or even if you do) schedule a meeting with your supervisor. Either the Athletic Director or University Spirit Coordinator, Gym owner, whoever is directly above you. Talk about your goals for next year. Bring up any challenges you had this year that you could use their help to overcome in the future. An open conversation here helps establish a great rapport, shows your investment in your team, and may help take a stressor or two off your plate.

No matter who you are meeting with, make sure you have a discussion about big-picture goals. If you know what you want for the season before you meet your new team it may influence how you approach tryouts.

Coaching Tool #4: Assess the status of team uniforms and clothes

Some of the off season to-do list items are a lot less glamorous and fun. One of the boring but essential items is to make sure you have all school-owned items returned and assessed. (Hopefully, the returns happened before your end-of-season banquet, but if not make sure you have it all now!)

Take inventory of what you have, what you think you need to replace and determine what might be retired and purchased new the next year. These decisions play a lot into the budgeting of next season and will guide you in conversations with your A.D. / Spirit Coordinator as well as team informational meetings with prospective members about costs associated with your program.

Coaching Tool #5: Assess team finances

This off season task will look very different for high school and college teams, and very different even within those groups. Do what’s appropriate for your team. Where you on budget this year? If not, how did you go over? What needs to be changed for next year? Again, this is important for making decisions about next year and drives how you will answer questions during pre-season meetings to come.

Coaching Tool #6: Set dates for tryouts and tryout related meetings

Tryouts are a big part of everyone’s season. To be honest, it was my LEAST favorite day of the year. No matter what, I struggled with thinking about the dancers I cut and what it meant to them. (Do you struggle with the emotional aspects of tryouts? Read this: Letter to the coach who loses sleep over dance team tryouts). I wrestled with Varsity/JV decisions for weeks leading up to tryouts only to still be wavy on some dancers the day of tryouts. It’s emotional for me!

Then the magic day comes where you have a new team and you see everyone at the first team meeting and they are so excited for the season. That is one of my favorite days! But first, you have to get there… Spend some time in the off season making sure your tryouts are set up and scheduled. That way you get the most out of it and you get the best possible recruits for your team.

Here are some of the things to think about when you plan tryouts:

  • Info meeting – date and agenda
  • Optional clinics – date and agenda
  • Tryout mandatory dates and facilities schedule
  • Interviews – both returner and new
    • I always enjoyed having small short interviews as a part of tryouts. Rarely did it make or break someone’s place on the team but there are a few occasions where that happened. More often it was a place to check in with returners about goals and hopes for the season and changes the want to make after last year. It was also a chance to talk to the young rookies and see if they feel like a good fit for your family.
  • New team meeting – date and agenda
  • New captain meeting – date and agenda
    • Having a special meeting with your newly appointed captains is a great way to set up your season for success. Get it scheduled and on the calendar now so you don’t shove it aside in the craziness of a new season
  • New parent meeting (High school & All-star) – date and agenda
    • It’s also essential to have a meeting with new parents shortly after they become an extended part of your family. Help parents understand their role on the team and how they can support their athlete and the team as a whole. (Send them this letter – it’s a life savor!)
    • This is another great chance to talk about volunteer opportunities throughout the season and get them distributed now! Who is in charge of scheduling team dinners? Which parent is going to run registration for the Jr Pom clinic? Who is going to coordinate the end of year banquet? If you have the ‘head’ volunteers from the beginning it gives you a point person to talk to when the time comes. Then they can recruit help as their task gets closer. Your life is much easier though; because when it comes to the banquet, for example, you have one parent to communicate with. They are in charge of the rest and figure out who is bringing the cake, and who has decorations, and checking out the projector for the picture slideshow etc
  • Schedule your uniform fitting dates with local reps. Have this on the schedule before tryouts so that the first thing you do with the new team is get everything sized and ordered. Otherwise it can get lost in the shuffle of a new season and those new uniforms won’t be in on time for camp.

Coaching Tool #7: Update team contract & tryout packet

Your team contract and tryout packet always need a good review. Even if you’ve used the same one for a while, make sure you read through with the new lens of the most recent season. Do you need to be clearer about consequences for actions or the chain of communication? Does your tryout packet need more information about captain tryouts specifically? Take a few minutes at least and read through these documents and update as needed so they are ready to go for the new season. Need help writing one? Just ask! I’m here to help.

Coaching Tool #8: Review your letter to parents

Again for High School and All-Star coaches, I recommend having a letter to the parents that goes home (or really emailed out) when their child makes the team. Be clear about communication expectations, finances, and how discipline and rewards are handled on your team. This puts it all in writing. If you send it home after the first team meeting but before the parent meeting, you will save yourself a lot of headache in the future.

communication training

You still offer them a chance to talk to you about any concerns in the parent meeting. But expectations are already clearly laid out. Inevitably challenges come up. When the water gets choppy, upfront communication from the get-go will help you gain a lot more support throughout the year.

You can download the letter here!

Coaching Tool #9: Create an overview calendar for long-term plans

Most of the major competition companies release their event dates during your off-season, or if not they stay pretty much the same weekend every year. Do some research and try to nail down as many important dates as you can. If you don’t know the specific date, even something like “Probably the second weekend in November” is helpful. Here’s a list of some things to consider:

  • Regional competitions you attend regularly
  • State championships
  • National championships
  • Known fundraisers: Jr Pom clinic for example. Maybe you don’t have the exact date, but you know it’s on a basketball game during early February…
  • Other team regular events: Summer picnic and team-bonding rituals, Camp, End of the year showcase, etc.
  • When will the season start after summer break? Your new team will always need to know when they have a break during the summer and when they are expected to be back in preparation for football season.
  • Summer expectations: Are there off-season training expectations? Do you have a 4-day intensive right before camp? Set those dates before you even meet your new team.

Coaching Tool #10: Choose a team communication platform

There are lots of great team scheduling and communication tools, like Band, GroupMe (especially if you’re a teacher and want your phone # private), Team Snap, Remind, and Team App. They allow for the practice schedule to be easily changed and updated, uploading video content for choreography, and sending out basic reminders. Some even sync with everyone’s electronic calendar on their phone if they want.

Many apps also have a place to upload waivers. That way everyone can easily download, sign, and bring to practice. It’s also a central place for everyone’s contact information. So when parents need each other they can find one another (and not send you yet another email). If team dinner is at Stacy’s house, everyone has her address on their phone and no one gets lost.

It’s a quick simple step to archive your old season and input new team members. Then after tryouts, add in rookies and you’re all set for the first team meeting!

Related Posts by Passionate Coach

Letter to the Coach Who Loses Sleep Over Dance Team Tryouts

A Passion for Coaching: Is it Making you Better or Weighing You Down

A Personal Coaching Philosophy that Will Improve Your Happiness & Fulfillment 

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