coaching strategies for youth sports


            The youth sport coach has a very important role in society. This is because he/she interacts with young people at a very critical stage in their lives when it is important that they are exposed to positive life lessons.  Youth sports are viewed by many to have consequences in psychological, social and  physical development of young people. Further, in this age of physical inactivity which leads to obesity, the role of sports in improvement of the health of adolescents and their general welfare cannot be overemphasized. The youth coach thus can have a great influence in the development of a young person and how much the youth enjoys sporting activities. The youth sport coach is however an unclear term, as it ranges from volunteer parents to coaches who have great skills and are highly paid. The more common scenario, however is that of an inexperienced volunteer who has limited training taking over the highly challenging job of youth coaching. Sharing of lessons learnt during coaching would be an effective means of improving the coaching process, but this does not happen often enough. Critics have argued that youth sports are plagued by many problems with serious concern being raised about the competitiveness of sport. It has been asserted that many young athletes have sustained injuries and burnout related to a lot of pressure and stress. Others are thought to have learnt poor social behavior such as being aggressive and poor sportsmanship (Hedstrom and Gould, 2004). These are problems that can be addressed by proper coaching

Research on responsibilities of youth coaches

            The primary responsibility of a youth coach is to provide young people with an opportunity to develop interests and skills in a particular game. Many of the responsibilities of the youth coach are ethical and legal with the roles being very much related. This is because most of the legal responsibilities are based upon societal expectations of an adult guiding young people. The coach has a moral obligation to ensure that the young athletes in his care are safe both emotionally and physically(Engelhorn, 2004). Stratton (1999) gives a list of duties (legal) that a coach has to assume. The list generally represents the conduct expected of a coach. First and foremost, the coach has the responsibility of ensuring that all games and practice are conducted in an environment that is physically safe. This includes the safety and appropriateness of the equipment in use. The coach should also use current knowledge and be aware of the proper skills and instruction methods. Supervision is also another role played by the youth coach. Closely related to supervision, is the matching of athletes during games and practice. This is in terms of experience, size and ability. This is important as it reduces injuries while providing an opportunity for young athletes to learn from one another.

            The youth coach also has the legal responsibility to issue warnings to the athletes and the parents of the inherent dangers that come with participation in sports. Being sensitive to the well-being and the health of the athletes when they are under the care of the coach is part of the responsibilities of the youth coach. This is in line with the role of providing appropriate care in case of an emergency. Osmundson (2001), adds a few more responsibilities; among these are, prevention of harassment and discrimination by athletes and other coaches, reporting of breaches in ethical code of conduct by colleagues, respecting and protection of confidential records of students and reporting to the authorities where a case of child abuse is suspected.

            These responsibilities are mainly legal and often where a coach has failed to meet their responsibilities they may be liable for court action (Trichka, 2001). The responsibilities of the coach are however not just legal; the coach has responsibilities far beyond those required by the law. Failure to perform the ethical roles of a youth coach translate to a failure to achieve the school’s objectives in its sports program. Many schools have a mission statement for their sports program. This is usually in line with the school’s philosophy and it carries with it most of the ethical responsibilities that come with coaching. For instance a school in West Aurora has a philosophy statement that gives an illustration of the ethical responsibilities of the sports program and therefore of the coach. First among these is a responsibility to encourage student athletes to mature into productive citizens with well-developed attitudes, ability and skills which will guide them through the learning process and the rest of their lives. The school encourages the participation and involvement of all the students in interscholastic competition. To develop good work ethic, athletic skills and social skills every member of the team is provided with equal chances of doing so. The school’s athletic program also seeks to provide education to the athletes concerning community support and providing encouragement to student athletes to return that community support at all stages of their lives. Finally, the school’s goal is to win but to win in such a way that character is never compromised for a win ( West Aurora, 2002).

            This excerpt from the school in West Aurora shows that the coach has his work cut for him in terms of providing ethical and moral guidance to the young athlete. The coach has the responsibility of teaching and modeling good sportsmanship and citizenship to every young athlete on his team. Good sportsmanship entails treating the opposing team with respect. The youth coach has an educational role to play and this is achieved by placing emphasis on the value of education in sports participation. By providing adequate time and attention necessary for the development of the skills in life and sport. This means that the coach cannot be focused on just a few select players while ignoring the development of the others. The coach also cannot have all his/her focus on winning such that the sports program loses its educational value (Engelhorn, 2004).

            The coach demonstrates this ethical responsibilities by showing commitment to the sport and helping the students understand this commitment so that they can develop moral reasoning and character (Engelhorn, 2004). By creating an environment that is free of harassment, fear, abuse and discrimination, the athletes are able to enjoy the experience of sport. The coach by respecting the role of the sports officials and making a decision not take advantage of rules guides the young athletes to have a healthy focus on winning that is guided by respect for rules. Further, fairness in player selection and time allocation goes a step in increasing the athletes esteem and eventually skill in the sport. For many the ethical responsibilities are viewed as the traditional responsibilities of youth coaches. Traditionally, however the emphasis has been on winning and sometimes aggression. This is however changing with the problems of burnout and sport-related stress in young people being identified. To prevent such stress, the coach is charged with the responsibility of demonstrating to the student athlete the role that sport plays in their life. This means that the athletes should be given the allowance of experiencing other sports and even arts if they have such interests. Off-season activities for conditioning purposes should not be forced on the student rather they should be the student’s initiative

so that the student does not have their freedom for participation in other activities limited.

            The notion that ‘sports builds character’ has been prevalent for some time now. Traditionally the idea almost seemed to be that participation in sports activities automatically resulted in good character. This has been the subject of a lot of research with researchers finding that character is taught and not caught (Hodge, 1989). This means that the youth coach has a role of systematically and consistently teaching sportsmanship, fair play and providing information on moral development so as to enhance the character of the young people (Gibbins, Weiss and Ebbeck, 1995; Weiss, Bredemeier, Shields and Shewchunk, 1986).

Issues that face youth coaches today

            Participation in sports activities has been found to have some association with negative incidents of peer pressure and adult behavior that is inappropriate (Hedstrom and Gould, 2004). Contemporary youth sport has also been criticized as a source of injury and burnout among young people as well as a means through which young people learn aggressive behavior and poor sportsmanship which are inappropriate behaviors. A problematic issue that faces leaders in youth sports is a lack of adequate knowledge about young people who are involved in sports. There has been much evolution in the last thirty years but most practices and policies in youth sport are formed without much contribution from sport sciences.

            A survey of volunteer coaches revealed that most of the coaches were married males who were mostly untrained. Most of these youth coaches became involved in coaching due to their child’s participation in sport. Consequently, most of them had very little knowledge regarding safety in sports, practice and conditioning and development in childhood (Martens and Gould, 1979; Michigan Youth Sports Institute, 1978). These findings are slightly similar to those of later research where study utilizing both observation and interview techniques showed that many of the volunteer coaches had had some experience in sport but sometimes in a sport different from what they were coaching (Sage, 1989).

Another study found that for those sport coaches who maintained their positions as coach for many years, the coaches reported that the presence of a mentor or being an assistant coach helped to increase their longevity (Sage 1989; Bloom et al, 1998). Most youth coaches stated that they had found coaching to be more difficult than they had anticipated. Some of the coaches pointed out negative interaction with the athlete’s parents, inadequate practice time and the structure of the leagues to be challenges that they had to endure (Strean, 1995).

            Youth coaches are faced with issues of ineffective instruction, even when the coaches who have been surveyed ask for this kind of assistance the most (Houseworth et al, 1990). Another challenge faced by youth coaches is the workload of coaching. Often, the youth coaches have the task of coaching a whole team by themselves. They lack individuals who can assist them as well as a network through which mentoring can occur. Concerns of time, structure and interaction with parents are more challenges and issues that youth coaches have to deal with. An even greater concern is the fact that many sport programs are apparently unwilling to make the changes necessary for dealing with the concerns of the youth coaches. This is in spite of the fact that sports activities have been found by numerous researchers to be beneficial to the young athletes.

            Lack of training is the most serious issue affecting youth coaches. While training has a positive effect on coaching, coaching education has not been taken up in many settings (Stewart and Sweet, 1992, Houseworth et al, 1990). First and foremost, this is because the education programs are perceived to lack benefits for the coaches with many holding the view that the material used in coach education is inadequate for  preparing the coach for his many roles and also lacks in comprehensiveness and effectiveness (Houseworth et al, 1990; Silvestri, 1991; Stewart and Sweet, 1991). In addition, most volunteer coaches do not have adequate time to participate in coaching education. This is because, often they also have other jobs to attend to.

            The volunteer nature of the youth coach job also creates a problem in the sense that it creates a problem of high turnover.  This makes it difficult for the volunteer youth coach to benefit from the shared experiences of other coaches who may have been around for longer. Direct coaching experience has been cited many times as the best way to learn how to coach but if the youth coach is unavailable to learn from others already in the profession, then this potential learning experience goes to waste.

            The needs and role of the youth sports coach have not been well understood due to a failure to identify the background of the typical youth coach. While there have been several positive approaches that can be used in coaching which have been identified these line of research needs more work if the results of research are to be applicable to a practical situation. The different positive approaches used in coaching have been found to be positive and effective through research into patterns of feedback and interactions between the athlete and coach. Coaching education has received very little support making its success limited and therefore also hampering the success of the youth coach (Gilbert and Trudel, 1999).

Strategies for correcting behavior

            Injuries and burnout are among the common problems affecting youth who participate in sports activities. Among some of the causes given for these injuries and stress are, poor coach education concerning injury, inadequate instruction, conditions of play and practice that are hazardous, errors in training, poor equipment, decreased fitness levels among the youth and poor nutrition (Micheli et al, 2000). Most of these causes can be managed by better coach preparation and education. Decreased fitness levels and poor nutrition are factors that can be corrected at home and also at school by encouraging the child to be involved in outdoor activities. The coach here has to assume a leadership role so that the young person does not drop out of sport activity completely.

            Leadership has been among the reasons that some young people have opted to drop out of a sport. Participants in an investigation revealed that they experienced frustration and not getting an opportunity to play or the chance required to help them learn skills and therefore gain experience. Most of the students who participated in these study blamed the coach for their concerns. To sustain participation and involvement, therefore the coach has to be involved in positive coach-athlete interaction. This can be achieved through adequate coach education, where the coach is provided with comprehensive and ongoing education.

            Comprehensive education is a strategy that covers all the aspects of sport development for example growth and maturation, drills and skills. training techniques and ways of dealing with issues that are social for example communicating with the athletes and their parents. By providing comprehensive education the coach is well prepared to avoid injuries in the young athletes and when they occur the coach is also prepared to manage them. Information about nutrition will help the coach to be of assistance to those students who desire to be involved in sports but may not be fit enough due to obesity and poor nutrition. With this information, the coach becomes a means by which drop-out is controlled and also helps the teenager improve his health.

            Education of coaches should not be a one-off thing, rather it should be ongoing. Ongoing education is a strategy that provides an opportunity for knowledge to be used in dealing with concerns specific to a league and/or sport. This process is advantageous to the coach because it gives the coach the chance to refresh knowledge that was present before and also to update practices. This way the coach keeps abreast of current information and practices related to the sport.

            In attempting to find out other strategies that could be useful in managing the issues youth coaches have to deal with, a series of interviews with coaches were conducted. They revealed that coaches when in an environment that allowed them to network freely, the coaches learnt from one another with many of them forming mentoring relationships with fellow coaches. This led to better coach development (Bloom et al, 1990). The strategy of peer learning is apparently very important for the enhancement of coaching education.

            Research has indicated that coach education has a positive impact on coach and athlete performance. Youth coaches who went through Coach Effectiveness Training (CET) so that they could learn encouragement skills and techniques, effective ways of instructing young people and avoidance of punishment were perceived differently from those who were not trained. These coaches were liked better by the student athletes. The student athletes also had a higher degree of satisfaction amongst themselves as team members. Further, they were more motivated and for children who had began the season with poor self-esteem, there was an increase in their self-esteem compared to those whose coach had not gone through positive coaching training. It should be noted that the team’s win-loss record did not seem to have much of an impact on the perceptions of satisfaction with the season and the coach (Smoll et al, 1993). This shows then that by educating and training coaches, there is a greater positive impact on the psychosocial development of the student athlete.

            Coach training does not only affect the psychosocial development of the athlete, it also has an effect on the rate of attrition in sports among youth. This was reported in a follow-up study. Coaches who were untrained were found to have high attrition rates of about 26 per cent while those coaches who had undergone CET training had an attrition rate of 5 per cent (Barnett, 1992). In addition the players whose coaches had undergone CET showed lower levels of anxiety. The research findings clearly make the case for initiation of coach education and training as a positive strategy for dealing with youth coach issues and managing problems of injuries and burnout among student athletes. A satisfied student will often not be stressed and will follow the coaches instructions to avoid injuries.

            Coach education and training is not only useful for managing injuries but also for solving problems related to parents. Effective communication is also taught at these training sessions and mixing with other coaches provides an opportunity to brainstorm and eventually find solutions to problems that have to do with the league structure and communicating with parents. Parents are important to a child’s competence and motivation and influences how a child plays and whether they will stay in a particular sport. When the coach is aware of all the possible factors that could be affecting his players he is better able to guide them.  Parents have been reported to be among the most common problem issues affecting high school athletes, with about 36% of parents being said to hurt the tennis development of their children (Herstrom and Gould, 2004). Parent-child interaction that is detrimental to the child’s positive involvement in sports includes overemphasis on winning, choosing to coach one’s child, criticism of the child, unrealistic expectations and too much pampering of the child. Such a situation would require a third party to intervene if the child is to remain in sports. The most appropriate in this case would be the coach as he/she is familiar with the sport and the child and is therefore able to have a more objective view of the problem.

            When education is seen to be working for some coaches, then the likely thing is that other schools will try it out too with the hope of getting positive results. Dissemination of information on instances of success with coach training should be made available at every opportunity possible so as to do away with the perception that coaching education material is inadequate and ineffective.


Participation of young people in sports leads to their sound development and is also a rewarding experience for the coach, parents, fans and the players themselves. In other cases it also becomes an opportunity for the young person to develop sports talent and specialization. While this may be the case for some student athletes, it is imperative that the teenager enjoy participation in sports and learn important life skills from it. This can be mediated by the youth coach who therefore has a very important role in influencing the development of the young athlete. The first step in managing the challenges that come with this complex job is realizing how significant the role of a youth coach. Once identified, then the youth coach can go on to employ strategies like education and training sessions to improve themselves, look for mentoring opportunities and liaise with other teachers and parents in making sports an enjoyable learning experience for the young athlete.


Barnett PN, Smoll LF and Smith RE, 1992, Effects of enhancing coach-athlete relationships on youth sport attrition, The Sport Psychologist, vol 6 pp111-127

Bloom GA, Schinke JR, Salmela HJ and Durand-Bush N, 1998, The importance of mentoring in development of athletes and coaches, International Journal of Sports Psychology vol 29 pp 267-281

Engelhorn R, 2002, Legal and Ethical Responsibilities of a Youth Coach, Iowa State University retrieved from,

Gibbins SL, Weiss MR and Ebbeck V, 1995, Fair play for kids: Effects on the moral development of children in physical education, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, vol 66 pp 247-255

Gilbert W and Trudel P, 1999, An evaluation strategy for coach education programs, Journal of Sport Behavior, vol 22 pp 234-250

Hodge KP, 1989, Character-building in sport: Fact or fiction? New Zealand Journal of Sports Medicine, vol 17 issue 2 pp 23-25

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Martens R and Gould D, 1979, Why do adults volunteer to coach children sports? in Newell MK and Roberts GC (editors), Psychology of motor behavior and sport,  pp79-89, Champaign, Illinois, Human Kinetics Publishers

Michigan Youth Sports Institute, 1978, Joint legislative study on youth sports programs, Phase III report,Lansing, Michigan

Osmundsman D, 2001, Ethics for the coach and athletic director, Presented at the Annual Conference for Athletic Directors, Iowa High School, Des Moines

Sage GH, 1989, Becoming a high school coach: From playing sports to coaching, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport vol 60, pp 81-92

Silvestri L, 1991, Survey of volunteer coaches, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol 72 ,pp 409-410

Smoll LF, Smith ER, Everett JJ and Barnett PN, 1993, Enhancement of children’s self-esteem through social support training for youth sport coaches, Journal of Applied Psychology, vol 78 pp 602-610

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Strean WB, 1995, Youth Sport contexts: coaches’ perceptions and implications for intervention, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, vol 7 pp 23-37

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