Are You a Rookie Coach?

Over Christmas break,  I had the opportunity to take my son to his traveling volleyball tournament in Anaheim, California, which not only gave me the opportunity to watch him play but also the opportunity to observe coaches. Of course being a veteran coach,  you can’t help but observe and get frustrated. Most club coaches are young and have their team’s best interest at heart which in club sports is usually some form of a “National Championship” in some confederation that I didn’t even know existed. Here’s the probable checklist of the rookie coach.

  • The basics
  • X’s and O’s or strategies of the game
  • Fundamentals
  • Past playing experience
  • The intangibles
  • Passion
  • Energy
  • Enthusiasm

For most young coaches, this would seem to be the complete list. But that’s what makes a rookie coach. They just see the small aspect of the game. They can’t see the big picture. This is the scenario that I witnessed in most teams. In my opinion, here’s what’s missing.

Objectives and steps to complete those objectives

Why are we here? Is our purpose to win, get exposure, have a vacation and play, or just hang with the team in a different part of the country? Whatever the objective, there needs to be a clear message about the intent of the competition. The coach then needs to lay out the plan for the particular objective. For example, I start my track season with the question “are we a Friday team or a Saturday team?” Which asks are we happy to simply make it to the state meet or are we there to do something and leave a mark? Then I create workouts that can help us get to those objectives. This is where my 23 second runs come in during indoor track. If we can get four guys over 200m in 23 seconds, we can place in the top three in the 4×1, 4×2, and place in the 4×4. If we can get six across, we can win state without any distance runners. Or, if we are at a meet, we will lay out an objective or two to give us an indication if we are on track to our goal. Can certain athletes double or triple events or can we double athletes in races that are close to each other. 

The job of the coach is to channel all of the youthful energies toward the objective. A great coach can convince those on the fence to believe in the objectives and more importantly, make them feel as if they are an integral part of completing the objective. This also gives the athletes a clear picture of where they fit on the team and their possibility of moving up. Again, a coach can be the bridge to the goal by giving them exercises or workouts to get to their goal. The more the athlete believes the coach is part of their journey, the harder the athlete will compete. In track terms, you can always tell how good a coach is by how good the fourth is on a relay team.


If you have an objective, you can now put together a detailed plan of what to do to make sure the plan happens. And since most young athletes have no clue, an experienced coach can lay out a schedule. The basics are where to be and when. An experienced coach lays out a detailed daily schedule that would include the following:

  • Wake-up (try to get 8hrs)
  • Water intake (huge issue with flying, warmer climates etc)
  • Meal choices (especially when lots of options for poor meal choices)
  • Bed time – try to get as many hours before midnight as possible
  • Pre-game meal choices, in-between game food choices and post game food choices

Pre-game warm-up and in-between game protocol

In big tournament/meets athletes can become overwhelmed by all of the commotion or intimidated by watching the competition. Take them away from the commotion and let them regroup. In track, we take our athletes into small rooms where it is quiet. Follow Cal Dietz’s protocol of  laying on their backs, feet high on the wall and cool cloth on their face while doing RPR breathing. 

Free time also needs to be addressed.  Most will take advantage if it is not outlined. Keep it short and keep them out of pools and hot tubs. They can be quite draining. Walking is the best.

Put your team in position to win or frame winning scenario

If you are in a position where your team has no chance of doing what you expected or losing, break down the game into a scenario where they can still see the game as a win. While coaching at a smaller school who competed with all of the bigger schools, we would never have the depth to win a bigger meet, so we picked three to four events to focus on and scored the meet based on those events. While we never walked away with a trophy, we always had the sense that we did well and could compete and never felt like we got our butt kicked. In fact, we usually left before the meet was over. 

Micro goals 

I always feel like this is what Bill Belichek does. He has game plans to see if certain things work or to emphasize a certain part of the game for the big picture down the road. I think we can do that as well. For example, a meet goal could be to focus on winning the first 10m, or seeing if we can recover from blown hand offs. You can do this in practices as well. Biggest improvements, most 23 second runs, best time, the list can go on. If athletes hit the micro goals, present an award. Napoleon said, “Give me enough medals and I’ll win you any war” and “ A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” With the ease of making things online, socks, shirts, shorts etc, the possibilities are endless. We even had hair awards at 7:00 AM Sat morning practices at York. Best bed head wins. It always diverted the idea that we were practicing at 7:00.

“kick thoroughbreds and stroke the mules, publicly”

I learned this from Joe Newton and Stan Reddel at York HS who put together close to 40 state championships in cross country and track. Neither had any problem going after the “best kids” by riding them hard in practice or pointing out their short-comings. (When it was found out that Belicheck often criticized Brady, people were shocked). But they always went way out of their way to point out the other athletes accomplishments publicly, often. For example, if they ran a great time or workout, not only was it acknowledged publicly but also was often compared to another “greats” from the past to show them how close they were to being great. Remember, anyone can put three on the track to run a great relay, the coach is always responsible for building the fourth.  And the fourth has to believe.

As track season approaches, hopefully this can get our minds to start thinking about what we can do to make sure our athletes have the best season possible.

By Chris Korfist


Upcoming Events:

TFC-Dallas January 25-26 (Amazing Line-Up!), Jesuit Prep, Dallas, TX… featured speakers: Vince Anderson (sprint guru) and Brian Kula (track coach and trainer of Christian McCaffrey), Steve Jones (112-7 at Kimberly HS, WI)

TFC-St. Louis February 7-8 (Maybe best-ever TFC lineup!) Festus H.S., Festus, MO… featured speakers: Derek Leonard (FB coach at Rochester, 45-2 playoff record in the last ten years!) and Kurt Hester (author of Rants of a Strength and Conditioning Madman)

TFC-11, Chicago June 2020 (June 5-6)