Coaching youth sports is a rewarding job, particularly for adults who see their roles beyond winning and losing.
Coaches of youth sports are role models and key players in making sports experiences gratifying and beneficial for children and teens. According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), “sports participation is one of the greatest resources available for instilling valuable life skills in children.” Unfortunately, those valuable life skills can become secondary to winning. Not only do coaches help kids have fun and experience winning and losing, they also play an important role in positive youth development.
While they deservedly celebrate the winners, coaches also recognize the efforts of all children who work hard to be good at sports. Coaching helps kids develop resilience, cope with disappointment, learn from mistakes, and make adjustments to strategies. These are all important aspects of developing initiative, an ability that children use in all aspects of life.
Coaching youth sports is one of the most important ways adults influence the positive development of youth. Beyond the development of strategies and skills associated with a particular sport, a sports coach can ignite a child’s curiosity, teach positive social and team skills, cultivate resilience, promote self-awareness, model integrity, foster resourcefulness, encourage creativity, and nurture empathy. Educator and sports consultant Dr. Jennifer Fraser, debunks myths about coaching young athletes, showing the differences between tough-minded and positive coaching strategies. In her article, “How to be a Positive and Winning Youth Sports Coach,” she outlines eight ways youth sports coaching can positively influence athletes.
Researchers have studied the role of youth sports coaching for many years. Studies show that sports coaches who give positive reinforcement, provide effective feedback, and foster a caring climate provide the best developmental outcomes for children.
Positive reinforcement is used in coaching youth sports to bring about desirable changes in behavior and to teach children to take responsibility for their actions. Coaches do this in a variety of subtle and overt ways. Sometimes it is a gesture, like a nod of a head, a smile, or a pat on the back that lets players know they performed well. Other times, it may be verbal praise for trying hard, executing a good strategy, or treating another player with respect. Praise is most effective when it makes players feel good about who they are on the inside. For example, even when children lose, they can still feel good about how hard they worked or how their abilities have grown.
Coaching youth sports is about looking for teachable moments. They facilitate a growth mindset in their players, showing them that everyone can change and grow through learning. One technique used by coaches is to serve up a feedback sandwich. 1) They begin by identifying something positive. For example, “Rob, I really liked the way you pushed yourself during the game.” 2) They coach for improvement, being direct and firm but never demeaning. For example, “I’m going to work with you on how to kick the ball more successfully….” 3) They end with encouraging words for kids, stating a bright outlook for the future. This technique works well with children, particularly when youth sports coaching involves the regular monitoring of change and giving helpful feedback as improvement occurs.
One of the most positive aspects of coaching youth sports is the ability to develop a caring relationship with individual children and teens. When sports coaches truly care for their athletes, they form a bond between themselves and their team that gives members a sense of belongingness. Research shows that when kids feel like they belong, their attendance, motivation, and retention increase. Elements of caring include listening, empathizing, respect, and acceptance—regardless of winning. Modeling these behaviors to children through youth sports coaching has been shown to foster their ability to care for themselves and others, and also ignites a passion for learning.
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