I started leading a team of youth leaders at the age of nineteen. I have been very involved in the youth ministry since high school and over time, have naturally stepped into the role of organising team meetings and discipling emerging leaders.
Since then, I’ve led youth teams in three different churches in Asian and Western contexts in Sydney. Somewhere along the way I got involved in volleyball coaching and discovered a new passion hidden within me.
I shifted from a volleyball player to a volleyball coach and in the few years of coaching this sport and leading youth teams, I’ve acquired new skills and perspectives of leadership that I’ve never thought of before.
Here’s what I learnt so far:
- A coach constantly reminds the team of their vision
During training, before a game and especially in the game, the most important thing I need to do is help my players understand why we’re playing volleyball. Our team culture at the time was to develop a passion for the sport so I wanted my players to remember that they’re going in with a learning mentality.
What did they need to learn?
I decided that the most important thing for beginning volleyballers is learning to play offence so the one skill they needed to nail as a team was ‘three hits’: dig, set and spike.
In every training and every game, I felt like a broken record always reminding the team: “Three hits! Dig, set, spike!”
Your youth team needs a coach who’s not embarrassed to remind the team the why of youth leading. What is the one thing that your team needs to always be reminded of?
They need to be constantly reminded of this because players will forget the vision and will resort back to their old habits. When under pressure, volleyball players will always send the ball back with one hit. That’s because they haven’t trained their mind in the foundational offensive strategy: dig, set and spike.
When you remind them enough times, they’ll start to internalise the team’s vision and they’d be better prepared to be proactive rather than reactive.
Your voice will help them centre and refocus what’s important no matter what the circumstances look like. With a clear vision in mind, players will play as a team rather than six individuals scrambling around the court.
- A coach observes, understands and then gives feedback
Coaching volleyball has taught me to slow down when it comes to giving feedback. You can’t assume your first observation to be a correct assessment of a player. They might be having a bad day, they might not have warmed up yet, or their pass may have been just an accidental slip.
Good coaches observe carefully, understand why a player might be consistently making the same mistake, and then considers thoughtfully what words to use to help them improve.
Feedback should focus on positive action – ‘do’ – rather than the negative – ‘don’t’. Saying, “next time when you serve, aim your hand above the net” is more effective than saying, “don’t serve the ball into the net.”
By repeating positive action feedback, players gradually internalise your coaching advice and improve over time.
Coaching a team of youth leaders takes time, patience and helpful repetition of feedback. Guide them to ‘do’ what is helpful in their development.
Observe, understand and then give feedback.
- A coach spends time developing each player outside team meetings
Every player has a special role and each role brings a different edge to the team.
Prior to team trainings, I’ll spend time with different groups to help them understand their current role and how they can best help the team. A lot of ground work is laid before the team gets together and learns to gel well.
Your team will function better when you understand them as a team, in smaller groups and as individuals.
- A coach inspires players to love and get in the game
Finally, I learned that as much as I love youth leading, as a youth pastor now, I should be empowering my leaders to get in the game as much as possible.
When I encourage my leaders to be more involved in various aspects of youth ministry they see that they share ownership in this pursuit and it motivates them to give their best for the good of the ministry and the church.
What brings me joy is equipping a team of leaders to see clearly the vision of what we’re doing, discovering together how we’ll get there and then inspiring them to get in the game and disciple young people for Christ.
Every leader brings to the table different skills, wisdom and passion. If you’ve never coached a sporting team before or led a team outside of a church context, can I encourage you to give it a go? It may give you fresh insights on how to lead your ministry team.
Rachel Li is the ‘children’ and ‘youth pastor’ at Northern Life Baptist Church in Sydney. She has recently finished studying a Master of Divinity at Morling College and she’s continuing further studies towards another Masters.
You can also find Rachel’s previous article here: https://christiantoday.com.au/news/what-it-means-to-be-truly-blessed.html
Rachel is the children and youth pastor at Northern Life Baptist Church in Sydney. She loves volleyball, reading and a good TV drama! She has recently finished studying a Master of Divinity at Morling College and she’s continuing further studies towards another Masters.