Coaches communicate in a variety of ways. What we say, what we write, what we do, how well we listen, and how close we are to those with whom we are communicating are among the most obvious mechanisms for communication.
With young athletes, it’s best to be happy, cheerful, positive, and encouraging. This defines and reflects the whole environment. In times of stress, be calm and gentle – despite how challenging it seems in the moment. When giving instruction, be concise and brief, as the attention span for most youth participants can be very short. Provide “constructive instruction”; build up rather than tear down; use lots of how-tos and minimize the don’t-dos.
Provide some form of regular newsletter or memo. Weekly works well; this allows communication to both athletes and parents. Follow a consistent format and the same organizational plan each week. This makes it easier for them to find and gain the key information you are providing. Be sure these communications are thorough, providing all of the information necessary.
- Actions are always more powerful and speak louder than words
- Actions also speak loudly in spite of words
The coach’s role-modeling influence is powerful. Modeling is powerful for many in these age groups.
This may be the most overlooked and most powerful communication mechanism of all. Communication represents interaction within a relationship. Listening to others and hearing what they share shows the value placed on the other person. It communicates loudly and clearly that “you count for me, and you are important to me.”
Distance implies priority. If you are so far away that you have to shout to be heard, that implies one level of priority. But if you move toward the person and get close to them when communicating; this implies an entirely different, higher level of priority.
Communication Used to Correct Errors
When faced with the opportunity to redirect an athlete in any of the age groups you coach, try these six steps:
- One focus. Correct only one behavior, or one movement at a time. Save others you want to address for the next practice
- Ask before you tell. Give the kids the chance to tell or explain what they think they did. It gets them “tuned in” to the issue, and you may find out a lot that helps let you sound appear brilliant.
- Apply the back-up principle. The cause of an error necessarily comes somewhere prior to the actual occurrence of the error. Back up to the cause of the error, and address fixing the cause.
- Provide constructive instruction. Avoid too much of “what’s not right” and focus on “how to do it right.” Always be building them up, and not tearing them down
- Praise before preaching. Always begin by praising something that the kids are doing well. Then you will have their attention, trust, and receptivity. Next, provide constructive instruction – concise, instructive, and to the point. And before the players realize that they are actually being criticized – and may begin to turn you off and tune you out – you then add another shot of praise and encouragement.
- Use a lead-up. If you really have more than one issue that you wanted to address and you just can’t resist the urge to share it, just briefly mention it at this point. Without going deeply into it, say that you’ll get together and work on it tomorrow. This alerts the athlete that this issue will be addressed and provides an easy lead-up to it the next day. In many cases, you’ll find that the problem has taken care of itself by the time you get back.
Using Positive Reinforcement
Create an environment that is intended to provide young athletes with a positive experience in youth sport, where:
- People are happy and having fun.
- Self-worth is valued as a priority and is protected and nurtured.
- Kids are met with realistic expectations and constant encouragement.
- Seeds of belief, trust, and self-confidence are planted and regularly cared for.
- Praise is used liberally and there are more than enough pats on the back, high fives, and hugs to go around.
- Criticism is constructive, caring and gentle, pointed toward the behavior, not the person.
When kids meet sport in an environment like this, positive reinforcement happens all of the time.
Researchers have also determined that one of the biggest sources of stress for coaches includes communicating with athletes and parents for this age group.
Mistakes coaches made in developing young athletes include giving too much or too little responsibility, using poorly structured practices for selecting starters, not communicating enough with their athlete and their parents, failing to reinforce and educate players and parents, having ineffective relationships with participants, and making assumptions about what some players know about sports.
Good communication skills are among the most important ingredients contributing to performance enhancement and the personal growth of sport and exercise participants. When coaching youths and dealing with parents, it is a best practice to use the positive approach, including the liberal use of praise, encouragement, support, and positive reinforcement.
Jumping into your Coaching Career
Sports Psychology Coaches have endless opportunities to work with athletes ranging from beginning to professional and all points in between. Some coaches build businesses working with youth athletes. Others specialize in sports such as triathlon. Other coaches work with teams in the college and pro ranks. There are no limits to what is possible for your career.
The Youth Performance Coach Certification is designed for new and advanced coaches and trainers who want to specialize in the areas of youth athletics, youth mentorship and leadership for the next generation.
If you are new to youth coaching, training and mentoring, this is a great launching point for your career. You will gain valuable insight that will give you the skills needed to make a positive change in the lives of youth.
That’s it for now.