Coaching Character, Along With The Sport

by | Coaching | 0 comments

A youth sports coach is one of the most influential adults in a young person’s life, obligating a coach to prioritize character development along with the teaching of sport.


Primary Responsibility of a Coach

In the hierarchy of adults that young people interact with, coaches often rank among the most influential.  What coaches do and say has an impact on adolescent minds learning not only the skills associated with their sport, but adapting to the nature of competition, sportsmanship, and failure.

This bestows a responsibility on youth coaches far beyond game strategy and X’s and O’s.  They have an inherent obligation to model positive behaviors and values, and through this example, develop not only the player, but the player and the individual.  In other words, their primary commitment should be to coach the athlete, not just the sport.

Conflict of Interests in a Win-First Culture

Kids participating in youth sports are typically between the ages of 5 and 18.  This time frame encompasses early instructional programs through higher-level competition in high school athletics. At the recreational level, attending to an athlete’s physical or emotional needs is relatively straight-forward.  The goal is fun, so a coach can easily divert time and energy away from the action to focus on the individual.

Coaches involved in travel, all-star, and elite-level competition, however, often encounter conflicts of interest in developing both the player and the individual.  At these levels, coaches are incentivized to develop an athlete’s skills, create pathways for scholarships, provide exposure to scouts, and in short, to WIN.  Parents demand these outcomes given the thousands of dollars they invest to give their kids a leg up.  This type of win-first environment often dictates that coaches prioritize sport-specific development and achievement over the underlying physical and emotional needs of maturing youth.

Performance Expectations & Conditional Behavior

Coaches will typically impose performance expectations on their athletes specifically geared toward winning and bringing these ultimate goals to fruition.  When those expectations are met, i.e., they score their points, drive in their runs, and bring home the trophy, they receive praise and are rewarded for executing the plan.

But when expectations on the field are not met, the pressure rises.  Coaches begin to push their athletes harder to live up to their end of the bargain.  Kids discover that praise and recognition in a win-first culture is conditional on their success, not their effort or process.  Failure on the field can even result in public embarrassment and physical punishment as a motivation to improve performance.

Athlete-First Cultures

Regardless of age or competitive level, no youth athlete is ever a finished product, either on or off the field.  They will always be influenced by the words and actions of their coaches. To make a positive impact, coaches should afford the time and patience needed to make lasting connections with their athletes so they may build confidence and develop personal identity.

In an athlete-first culture, failure and unmet expectations are viewed as teaching opportunities rather than justification to belittle.  Support and investment in athletes does not fluctuate based on performance, rather, remains unconditional regardless of outcomes.  This freedom allows young athletes to perform without fear and grow into their individual potential.  Without it, young athletes can be left unfulfilled, burned out, and lacking the intrinsic motivation needed to succeed over the long-term.

Cultures are Not Mutually Exclusive

Cultures centered on winning and personal development do not have to be mutually exclusive.  Investing in both requires a broader perspective, with intentional focus on preparation, patience, communication and consistency to nurture both responsibilities simultaneously.

All parties play a role in this process – let’s take on the challenge of coaching the athlete, not just the sport, so we may have a positive influence on the holistic growth and development of young athletes.

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