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What Kids Really Need From Youth Sports Coaches

by John Nolan


Growing up I was into team sports: football, basketball, and baseball.  And while there was always an impromptu pickup game to be found, I really enjoyed the formal sports structures both in and out of school.  I was fortunate for the most part to have good coaches.  I defined “good coaching” as that which made the sport fun, helped me develop my skills, and put me in situations where I had the best chance to succeed.  Looking back I can see that the best coaches were the ones that knew and loved the sport they were coaching and liked being with us as people and players.  (They also knew which Moms to ask to bring good refreshments!)

In my experience as a young athlete and as a coach to kids, I always felt that communication designed to encourage and elevate the players morale and sense of team had the greatest impact. The saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” comes to mind. Communication with the players and not talking down to them elicits better, more focused responses. In a sports setting, kids want to know how they can be the best possible player and teammate, so making that clear through communication enhances that result.

There are kids who are serious about a sport and hope to play in high school and college, and there are kids who like the game and want to do well, but their prime motivation is always fun. In either case, hearing more about what they did well rather than what they did wrong provides better outcomes.

Being used to hearing (and liking to hear) positive reinforcement from the coach allows the player to be focused on what the coach is saying…so when the coach provides corrective advice it is more likely to be heard and heeded. I never really thought about a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity before, but it certainly makes sense. I now listen to how my grandson's coach provides positive feedback before giving a critical piece of advice and can see my grandson's positive reaction, which in turn promotes improvement.

Everything falls into place when kids (and coaches) have fun in sports. Kids stay involved, team cohesion and camaraderie soars, and the stage is set for personal performance improvement. Coaches set the tone for achieving that fun through caring, positive communication, and well-structured skills development in practice and games.

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John Nolan, PCA-Mid-Atlantic Board Member, sports parent (and sports grandparent!) is an experienced corporate, nonprofit, and Advisory Board member and chairman with a demonstrated history of working in the museums and logistics industry.