According to a poll taken by The National Alliance for Youth Sports, 70% of kids quit sports by the age of 13. The No. 1 reason? It isn’t fun anymore.
For either competitive or recreational athletes, the first priority is that kids enjoy practices and games so they want to return the following season. That means training and playing have to be fun. Fun and competition can go hand-in-hand. At the same time that sports can be physically and mentally demanding as well as competitive, kids can be having fun.
A youth coach is a teacher, a mentor, and a role model who has the power to shape lives—for good or bad—and to leave a mark in the memories of young athletes.
Based on my experience of consulting with young athletes and their parents, the following coaching styles can contribute to kids feeling a lack of enjoyment in sports.
As an ultra-competitive youth sports coach and parent of youth athletes I have behaved—at one time or another—in some of the ways described below. These coaching descriptions are not meant to judge. As coaches, we all have work to do. The key is to recognize when we’re acting in ways that may be detrimental to children, and work to change.
The Dull Coach: Coaches who run boring, unchallenging practices with a lot of standing around and little emphasis on development or competition.
- The Dull Coach gives long explanations and directions, runs exercises that require athletes to stand in lines, and concentrates primarily on game situation drills with little focus on individual development.
- The dull approach can lead to a lack of effort and engagement—especially from the most competitive and athletic players.
The Over-Coaching Coach: Coaches who give excessive input to their athletes and make all of the decisions for their players.
- The Over-Coaching Coach will correct every swing at the plate, position every movement on the field, and give constant feedback in practices and games.
- This coaching style makes it impossible for athletes to think and react for themselves, leading to a lack of both mental and physical development.
- The over-coaching approach can be debilitating for an athlete and very difficult to overcome, even after moving on to a new coach.
The Win-At-All-Costs Coach: Coaches who will sacrifice the physical and emotional development and welfare of their players to win games.
- Perhaps the most destructive coaching style is the Win-At-All-Costs Coach. This coach will over-pitch the best pitcher, rarely play the reserves, waste valuable practice time working on set plays over developing long-term athleticism, and belittle struggling players.
- This coaching style leads to anxious and burned out athletes.
- The win-at-all-costs approach can also damage young brains and negatively impact the mental health of players well into adulthood.
Focus on Long-Term Athletic Development over Short-Term Success
An important responsibility of a youth coach is to develop athletes—physically, mentally, and emotionally—in an age-appropriate context, with a vision toward long-term athletic development.
Today’s youth sports culture is misguided in the way of evolving athletes. Parents and coaches sometimes demand—at an early age—that kids quit other sports they love to focus on intense, specialized year-round training for a single specific sport. The problem with early specialization is that kids miss important steps in the process of development. In the early years, learning and growing fundamental movement skills is more important than sport-specific skill development. Studies support kids engaging in free play and multiple sports early in order to develop coordination, speed, quickness, and general athleticism—all skills which eventually lead kids to reach their full athletic potential.
A science-based program for the advancement of athleticism, mental awareness, strength, agility, power, and speed is long-term.
Read my article (below) for more about long-term development strategies for youth athletes.