tips every sports coach needs
By: Dr. Lora Scott, sports medicine physician
Think about the most influential coach you had as a child. What did you learn from that coach? Do you remember how your team performed that season? Which memory is clearer?
In youth sports, coaching is about more than winning and losing. Yes, winning is fun. But being a good coach is also about being a positive role model and developing non-athletic skills we can use for the rest of our lives. Soccer player and coach John O’Sullivan agrees. The key to teaching these fundamentals is knowing the age you’re coaching. What skills should they be learning, both on and off the field?
Age 5 and under
- Important lesson: Being active is fun
- Recommended activities: At this age, it is all about developing gross motor skills. It doesn’t matter if the activity is through free play or team sports. Teach fundamentals like throwing, catching, kicking, running, tumbling, and swimming. Don’t expect them to be good at it. Let them practice everything and sample many different activities. Notice when they get better.
- Avoid: Try to avoid rules, strategy, winning, losing. At this age, they usually lack the cognitive ability to follow more than simple directions. Being too rigid can detract from the goal that “being active is fun.”
Age 6 to 9
- Important lessons: Fairness is everything. Teach them that sports have rules so that everyone can play fair. Teach how to handle losing and winning in a fair and respectful manner.
- Recommended activities: Consider starting team sports, or formal instruction in individual sports. Focus on playing fair and following the rules for each sport. Let everyone play, regardless of ability, because this is fair and keeps it fun for everyone. Start to work on sports-specific techniques. Teach them appropriate behavior when winning and losing. Develop individual or team goals that can be reached even if they do not win. Encourage them in what they are doing well, both as individuals and as a team.
- Avoid: Avoid sports specialization, which can lead to early burnout at this age. Avoid placing too much emphasis on winning and losing. Make sure sports stay fun and that the score is a small part of playing the game. Avoid strategy. Many do not have the cognitive ability to grasp strategy yet.
- Important lessons: It is time to learn strategy! Don’t forget the sportsmanship and enjoyment taught in previous stages.
- Recommended activities: Continue developing sports-specific skills. Teach how to make individual sacrifices to accomplish team goals. Emphasize the importance of sticking it out when things are not going well.
- Avoid: Avoid sports specialization or practicing too many hours per week. Both can lead to injuries and burnout. This takes away from the first and most important lesson: Being active is fun.
- Important lessons: You don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. Work on attitude and leadership. Continue working on lessons from previous levels: enjoyment, sportsmanship, and strategy
- Recommended activities: . Kids this age know if they are ‘naturals’ at sports or not. They will go through a growth spurt at this age, requiring them to relearn techniques. Teach the skilled athletes the importance of hard work and being a team leader. Help less-skilled athletes set individual goals so they can still have fun. Encourage a good attitude in all athletes.
- Avoid: Avoid letting an athlete quit a lifelong passion because of one bad season. Be careful here. It is also important to avoid pushing them in a sport they do not enjoy just because they are good at it. As always, let them participate in multiple sports.