The first year as a new coach is challenging, thrilling, emotional, and wonderful all at the same time. I remember my first year coaching my own team and it felt like magic! I spent hours working on team calendars and constitutions, planning our pom choreography, organizing fundraisers and prepping games to get to know the team. My first year, I was hired in May but not allowed to have tryouts until August so I spent all summer as a new coach trying to learn all…the…things!
That need to learn so much is the issue though, and one of the reasons I started this Passionate Coach village in the first place. There is so much to learn!! It felt like every week there was something I didn’t know or a mistake I made because I just didn’t know any better.
And while I loved my first year as a new coach, I wish I had some guidance. So I’ve gathered together some of the best advice from other coaches and my own nuggets of information into one place…
Here are my Top 10 Tips for New Coaches
This can be hard at first when you don’t know your own leadership style or how you will coach. But the goal in the first year is to find that rhythm. Decide how you will handle discipline, determine your level of expectations for yourself and the team. Then be consistent! If you make a discipline decision, be consistent with any future disciplinary issues. If you start off and say you’ll send a parent email every Sunday night, stick to it. The best thing you can do for a new team is to help them get to know you so they understand the system. You want them to know your pet peeves and what makes you really excited. To understand your facial expressions and you want them to understand your coaching style so they can thrive in that environment. The best way to help them learn the system, is to have a consistent system.
Now if you make a leadership choice and decide it’s not working, you can change your mind as long as you do it with clear communication (see #2). And sometimes you have to roll with it and make a change for next year so it’s not too much of change all at once.
Also be consistent in your own efforts for growth. You’re not trying to be the perfect coach in year 1. You’re trying to be 1% better every day. That adds up to amazing results, so just be consistent in your efforts for growth and you’ll start to see the magic happen.
#2: Clear is kind
Communicate clearly and often. If you have athletes under 18, set communication guidelines for the parents and stick with it. No matter what level you coach set up a clear communication chart so you know when/who/how/what will be communicated on your team.
If you want help setting that up, it’s a part of my Dance Coach’s Planning Toolbox!
It’s easy enough to communicate simple things like what to wear, where to be, and the rules for game day. When this advice for “clear is kind” really matters, is in the HARD conversations. As challenging as it is for many coaches, don’t shy away from the hard conversations. You have to step up and be the coach. Don’t hide the real reason behind a decision or beat around the bush. Say what you mean and mean what you say. No matter the age of your athletes, it’s important to model for them how to handle conflict and disappointment. Teach them to speak up respectfully and receive negative feedback with grace. In all of your communication, be clear about your thought process, expectations, and choices.
#3: Don’t be afraid to ask for help
You’ve probably heard this time and again, and I’ve talked about it a lot (see: Why Mentoring is the Best Medicine). But I’ll say it again. Find your village! Reach out to local coaches, join local and national associations, make connections with the other sport coaches in your school. Don’t go it alone. It takes most coaches years to learn that it’s ok to ask for help. Start with year 1 and you’ll be way ahead of the game!
#4: Encourage parents to help with appropriate jobs
If you coach a team of athletes under 18 (and even in some situations for college teams) it’s a good idea to encourage parents to get involved how you want them involved. Keeping parents at arm’s length and insisting you can handle it all yourself is a rookie mistake. There are usually many parents who want to be involved and if you give them projects and ask for help with things outside of dance there will be at least a few parents willing to jump in and support you. That also allows you to set boundaries and stick to them. Tell parents where you need the help and that allows you to say where you don’t need any help. Get them involved in the right things, maybe team dinners, fundraisers, carpools, making reservations etc. Embrace the parents who want to help and guide them to the type of help you need. You don’t have to accept every suggestion and offer they give you, but you don’t need to shut them out either.
#5: You are always learning and you are not always right
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been coaching 2 years or 20, we are always learning. One of the best lessons you can teach your dancers is that it’s ok to try something new and make a mistake. You are learning, so admit your mistakes and be the role model for how to handle that with maturity. Your team will respect you more, forgive the mistake, and then understand that they too can make a mistake in the name of learning.
#6: The 24-hour rule
This is a tried and true rule I’ve heard from dozens of coaches and I believe in it too. It works in two ways. First, if you get a nasty parent email or text, or your AD gives you bad news, take 24 hours before you answer. Don’t write that email in anger! Blow off steam, give yourself a chance to process and don’t respond or talk about it right away.
Second, explain to parents and dancers that the 24-hour rule applies to them too. If they don’t like a choice you’ve made or have something mean to say about the team, they need to wait 24 hours to contact you about it. Explain the rule at the beginning of the season and stick to it! Of course, not everyone will respect this rule and you’ll still get that angry text. So put the two rules together… when you get a note that makes you crazy you text back, “we can talk about this after 24 hours,” then stop responding. Give yourself 24 hours and give that person time to cool off and arrange for an appropriate time and place to talk (with an assistant coach or AD if it’s a pissed off parent!) Emotions can calm down a lot in 24 hours and nothing good comes from rapid fire angry texting and emails!
#7: Hold regular check-in meetings
Going along with consistency, it’s important to have small yet regular check-ins. Ask the team how they are feeling, if they prefer Friday afternoon or Saturday morning practices, what they want the music to be for homecoming, etc. It makes a huge difference. Let the team know you care about their thoughts and opinions. Check-in with the team as a large group, small groups divided by grade or veterans/rookies, and if time allows, check-in individually at least twice a season. These consistent check-ins should be done every year, but especially when you’re a new coach. Let your dancers be heard and make adjustments as you can. The best coaches always seek feedback.
#8: Schedule breaks
Dance team world tends to be a 12 months season. That’s too much for dancers and coaches so it’s important to schedule breaks. You’ll be tempted to go crazy and stay the course at full throttle all year, but it’s too much. Plan to take the week off after nationals or state. Look at your calendar and plan to take a random 4-day weekend when it makes sense for your schedule. You all need to recharge sometimes and that’s ok! Your team will be better for it and more efficient in practice when you’re back if you step away. Plus, you, my new coach friend, will find that spark of excitement and energy again!
#9: Create a “lessons learned” document
Throughout the season, have a note in your phone, or running google doc or whatever works for you that you can update all season. Every month, take stock in something you wish was different or would like to make as a small adjustment for the future. Always update it and look at it when you’re planning. Include little things like, “order those t-shirts two weeks earlier,” or make notes about how you want tryouts to be better the week after tryouts are done. You won’t remember when they come back around! I had a running “lessons learned” word document for 12 years and it was always shifting and changing. It saved me so many times and really helped my coaching and the team evolve year after year.
#10: Don’t be too hard on yourself
For many of you, you’re going into this job with high expectations for yourself, but you have to give yourself grace. No one knows how to do it all. Think about when you were a freshman on your own dance team, or your first ballet class. Did you feel 100% comfortable? Of course not! No one feels completely comfortable when they start something new, it’s ok.
Just because you’ve been a dancer for years, been on a team before, have all sorts of qualified experience, remember that you’re a new coach! Consider this: What did it feel like the first time you drove a car? You’d been riding in cars for probably 16 years, but that doesn’t mean you know exactly what to do as the driver right?!? Give yourself some grace as you’re learning on the job. You’ve got this.