Leading A Youth Sports Program from Good to Great

Administrators in youth sports face the same challenges managing people as any leader of an organization.

Alex knew Chase had tremendous potential. As his manager, Alex was frustrated watching someone like Chase wallow in mediocrity when he should be excelling in the workplace. 

It wasn’t laziness; Chase always did what was required. It wasn’t a poor attitude either. In fact, Chase often commented on how much he loved his job. He just seemed stuck, so as his manager, Alex decided it was his job to help take Chase’s performance to the next level.

The question is, what can he do?

Alex’s dilemma is all too common. Managers feel a responsibility and a need to help employees raise their game. But most managers don’t know how, and threats and coercive tactics fail to have any lasting impact. Incentives represent a much healthier approach, but the increase in performance often disappears as the incentive does.

There is another way! As a leader managing staff, coaches, and young athletes, you are in the unique position to influence people who report to you. Unfortunately, most administrators choose to influence their people by telling them things, rather than asking good questions, then giving great affirmations.

The trick is knowing what to ask and what to affirm. Through the following four-step process, employees will be transformed from the inside, out – a quantum leap – and it will be their choice to go from chump to champ!

1. Dream
2. Aim
3. Imagine
4. Believe

What is the Dream?

Surprisingly, most people don’t have a clear dream, and it’s usually because of one reason: They haven’t decided what they want to be, want to do or want to have.

A dream is a picture of the future we want for ourselves, so as a leader, you must ask the tough questions and help your people discover the answers. Ask questions like:

  • “If you could be doing anything you wanted here, what would it be?” “Tell me why.”
  • “What activities here give you the strongest feelings of satisfaction or importance?” “Why is that?”
  • “If you had were guaranteed success, what would you dare to dream for yourself?”
  • “What is a dream in your personal life that your work here might help you achieve?”

Have your people write down the answers to these and others like them. Assist him or her in starting a notebook, and call this “Step One – Declaring My Dream.”

What is the Target?

A target is a specific goal that must be hit in order to make a dream become a reality. Dreams that are not backed by specific goals will often remain unrealized visions.

A really good goal refers to some action that, if done well enough or often enough, will result in the dream turning from fantasy to fact. Ask questions like:

“What specific target could you aim for that would take you closer to your dream?”

“How will you measure your progress?”

Here’s an example:

  • Dream – Become the top program associate for my club or league.
  • Improper target – “Outwork all other associates.” (How will you measure “outwork”?)
  • Proper target – “Be indispensable to the director by being the primary go-to person for communicating with parents and ensuring their satisfaction.”

Have your staff member write down one or two targets that involve measurable activities to keep track of progress. Guide the person to select targets that require stretching to reach, but are not out of reach.

This information should be entered in the Quantum Leap notebook as “Step Two – Identifying My Targets.”

What Will Be Imagined?

Images are the language of the brain. If the sub-conscious receives those pictures often enough, the personal behavior will be modified to fit the pictures. The sub-conscious brain is eager for information, but it does not judge the information you send it as good or bad, right or wrong. It just accepts it and assumes you want it.

Ask questions like:

  • “When you imagine hitting your targets and achieving your dream, what does it look like in your mind’s eye?”
  • “Describe what you see, what you hear and what your success feels like?”
  • Make an affirmation like, “Since I’m familiar with you and your work, let me share what I see regarding your success.” Then describe what you see for them.

If you truly believe in a person’s potential, the images you share from the theater of your mind will have the force of a prophecy and create a sense of confidence.

Encourage people to play success scenes in their mind daily. This imagery should also be written by each of you and entered into the Quantum Leap notebook as “Step Three – Seeing My Success.”

What is Believed?

If a person has a dream, has taken aim on specific targets and has practiced imagining the desired outcome in advance, there’s only one thing that could stand in their way … roadblock messages.

Roadblock messages are the self-limiting beliefs people think to themselves. Many of your employees have solid dreams, lofty targets and may even enjoy some moments of mental rehearsal, but if they hear a small little voice in their head saying, “I can’t do that” or, I’m not good enough to hit that goal,” the chances of success are slim. Make affirmations like:

  • “I know you will it the goal” or, “I believe in you” or, “There’s no stopping you now!” Make it clear that you believe how this is going to end.
  • Ask questions like, “What does the little voice in your head say about your chances of success?”
  • “What part of this challenge intimidates you the most?”

Discover what personal roadblock messages they hear and help them replace those messages with new messages. Explain that self-talk must be positive and repeated daily if it’s going to replace negative self-talk. A mental “upgrade” begins with, “I can; I am; I do, or I succeed at …” These statements should be written and entered into the Quantum Leap notebook as “Step Four – Believing my Success.”

Initially, you will coach the four steps in sequence, but soon realize that they become integrated steps. On any given day your people’s thoughts will glide seamlessly from the high altitude of a dream, down to the earthly details of the day’s most immediate target.

Your employee’s life is being transformed because he or she sees their world differently. And because they see the world differently … it is!

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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