A coaches role in youth development

By Oliver J.

Youth programs within recreation and sport are a great way to encourage positive youth development. These programs could not exist without the support and dedication given by coaches in these fields. Hard work and plenty of hours are put into coaching youth, but in recent years, methods of coaching youth have been put under the spotlight. With youth sport programs growing, the role of the coach is becoming more complex and aspects other than winning are putting coaches under immense pressure. Although coaches may feel that they know the best way to coach today’s youth, the main focus should be on supporting and helping to foster positive youth development through sport and this isn’t always the case. I believe that some coaches have forgotten the importance of this through lack of leadership skills and in some cases not being qualified to teach youth.

I participated in sport from a young age and played soccer under a number of different coaches. As a result of this, I was able to see how different coaching styles and approaches could help or hinder a child’s development through sport. Qualitative research which shows that the coach–athlete relationship was a necessary tool of youth sports coaches used to facilitate the development of life skills (Crowe, Oades, & Vella, 2013). From personal experience I would say that coaches who refrain from forming relationships with their athletes are not giving youth the best chance of progressing and developing. Part of this problem are coaches who are stuck in their “old ways” or scared to adjust and adapt to benefit the youth of today. I believe that it is extremely important to develop a positive relationship with your youth. By establishing some form of coach-athlete relationship, it creates a supportive environment where the kids are more comfortable, improve their self-esteem, and other aspects that help with fostering youth development.

As a leader and coach in the sport field, I understand how important it is to help foster youth development. Learning activities in practices and games that develop competence and confidence, as well as connection with others, are paramount to developing self-determined individuals who will enjoy sports (Deci & Ryan, 2000). I find that some coaches will completely focus on “winning at all costs” and this can result in our youth not learning the required developmental social skills needed. Also, on the flip side, coaches who only focus on “the taking part that counts” can have the same results because our youth don’t understand the importance of team and individual success. I believe that coaches that can implement a balance between the two aspects will be the best style of coaching, and this will ultimately lead to the natural occurrence of positive youth development. Sport can be challenging, enjoyable and because of its competitive nature, coaches have the ability to nurture players and teach those valuable skills and morals that will have a lasting impact on youth and our future society. With future coaches forming strong bonds/relationships with their players, they will create a positive environment that empowers and inspires youth outside of sports.


Class noted from September 26th and October 7th
Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
Vella, S., Oades, L., & Crowe, T. (2013.). The relationship between coach leadership, the coach–athlete relationship, team success, and the positive developmental experiences of adolescent soccer players. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 18(5), 549-561.
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9 Responses to A coaches role in youth development

  1. Kirstin33 says:

    Great post, I agree with your comments about how coaches can foster youth development and provide an environment that can be beneficial to youth depending on their style.

    Coaches are extremely important in the continued participation on youth in sport or recreation pursuits. Coaches are a great way to facilitate youth development, and are how the youth learn the new skills.

    Another point I would like to bring up is that coaches need to ensure that the environment the youth are in is safe. If youth do not feel safe in the environment it will be unlikely that they will develop the assets and return to the sport. This goes along with your point of youth needing to have a connection with their coach. If youth have a good relationship and can talk openly to their coaches it will help make sure the youth speak up about problems they are having. I have just recently experienced this myself, I am coaching a group of boys basketball. Unfortunately last practice there was a problem between two of the boys, where one boy was bully the other child. Fortunately, this has only happened at one practice because the boy who was bullied felt comfortable enough with the coaching staff and came to us after this had happened. Had this boy not had a good relationship with us and did not feel comfortable about bringing this to our attention it might not have been dealt with as quickly. I think that coaches who do not have good appropriate relationships with their team might miss important information that could lead to youth dropping out of the programs. This situation lead to us talking about fair play and implementing consequences for bullying and disruptive behaviour. Luckily, that boy left the practice feeling better about the situation because of how we had handled it.

    Coaches who have good relationships with their players and who have a good style of coaching might have higher participation rates and less drop out rates because their players feel safe and that is very important.

  2. thomasmike17 says:

    I agree with Oliver as the two types of coaching include a winning at all costs coach and a coach who believes that taking part in the activity is of utmost importance. However; being a well-rounded coach includes both of these aspects. When working with younger children I believe having that personal relationship is important as previously stated, but as a child grows I feel it is just an important to have a more professional relationship that doesn’t include as much interaction beyond the topic of their sport or team. I find this is more directed to high performance teams but developing this relationship is relative to future relationships, in a work place, between an employee and boss. Having respect for your coach and wanting to work hard for him is a tough job for the coach to achieve but this is done with experienced coaches. For instance, a good coach is preparing the children for the next level. You may feel a coach is against a certain player or not playing them enough but there is always a reason and this can prepare the child for the next level. I do agree that more pressures are being placed on coaches and success is usually only measured by the amount of wins versus losses rather than the progression the child has undergone throughout the season.
    When a coach only cares about the children having fun and trying to be a likable person that can negatively impact the child’s development as the team may not listen in practices or work hard to improve their individual skill and the team. Coaches must keep practices fun, yet have drills that develop the child. Too much fun without structure will not improve the child and parents enrolling their children in sport want to see improvement. On the other hand, no fun and only skill development will lose the attention span of the children and they can become uninterested in the sport. Neither of these are good for development of the child nor participation in structured sport.
    In conclusion, if coaches want to continue working with children, winning can be a factor in keeping their position. However; parents want to see improvement in skill or as a person, which is achieved by coaches creating a positive atmosphere where children have fun with a purpose.
    Mike T.

  3. chealy7 says:

    Great post about coaches!
    I definitely agree that youth programs are a great way to encourage positive youth development. Organized youth sport programs could not exist without the support and involvement of volunteer coaches. As you pointed out with sport programs growing, the role of a coach has become increasingly complex as coaches are faced with multiple pressures to win, and develop skills. Coaching is more than teaching skills; youth coaches need to pay attention to “how” they interact with their young players. Coaches are an important factor to continued participation in youth sport. I agree that it is extremely important to build positive relationships with youth. It creates a supportive environment where the child feels comfortable, safe, and trusting.
    To ensure players enjoy themselves, coaches need to involve them in activities that allow them to make their own decisions. Involvement in sport programs that provide a sense of belonging, positive values, and supportive relationships, impact young people in a positive way. Fully engaging young players in there own development and focusing on personal skill development are among the most important aspects of young people. I believe outside of skill development, coaches also need to keep it fun! There needs to be an even amount of structured drills but also some fun drills.

  4. tristenburridge says:

    Great article!
    As I was reading, I thought of the difference between youth rec leagues and competitive leagues and I figure that the “winning at all costs” attitude is probably stronger in the youth competitive/rep leagues, but I know that there still has to be the development mindset even when the coach’s job is to win. There must be some sort of middle ground that can kill two birds with one stone, so that the coach can develop the child’s abilities and skills and still try and win games.

    Also, it is important that coaches realize that their job is to develop and not win games at youth levels, and I think that all coaches, even volunteer parents, should have to have some training that specifies what their job is, or have monthly emails sent to coaches so they have reminders or development of the month memo or something along those lines.

  5. laurjohn says:

    Good post, Oli! Over the years, I have experienced countless coaches for different sports and teams, all with different coaching styles. I find the experiences makes learning about youth development and influence easier to connect with in courses such as Youth Development Through Recreation and Sport. Many coaches don’t know what their actions and coaching styles can do to youth development and their self-esteem. Although I have never been sensitive when it comes to coaches yelling at me or criticizing me, I know many children, and even adults are. When it comes to youth sport, I find it all depends on the league, caliber and the individual athletes on the team to determine how they should be coached. I still believe winning can be a positive aspect of youth sport, but not the main idea. Learning how to win and lose appropriately are very important.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think this really is a great post Oliver! Considering all of the bad coaching examples that we see in the media, and even in our everyday surroundings, this sheds light on a subject that many people like to stay away from. Coaches are a significant part of healthy youth development because of the role they play in producing healthy and active young people, but the relationship between the coach and player is really what keeps kids coming back to recreation and sport. Positive coaching experience can increase kids attitude about school, life, and anything the coach chooses to impress on his young players. You’re very right when you say that coaches who have an “older style” may not focus as much on the relationship between player and coach, which in my opinion is the most important aspect of competitive sports today. The coach has to gain the players trust, compassion, and requires a determination to make all of his pupils better. A great example of a coach who demonstrates all the qualities of a coach who built great relationships with his players is Jim Valvano of NC State Basketball. Here is a link to his (and his teams) story!

  7. sthorne95 says:

    Great post Oliver!

    I definitely agree with you on the importance of coaches – especially on the point where you said there are two types of coaches. You have coaches that work you to the bone, scream at you, and will do anything to win – simply because winning is all that matters to them – not caring about what matters to their athletes. Then you have the “Win or lose, the score doesn’t matter – having fun is all that matters” coaches. In my opinion, neither one of these would be my ideal coach. Attending a small school where the sports coaches were all volunteers who didn’t really know anything about the sport that they were coaching, I got the “having fun is all that matters” coaches. Yes, it’s good to show your athletes that having fun is an important component of sport, but the definition of sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment” as stated by Google definitions – which means that the competition component of sport is equally as important as having fun.

    Coaches should encourage youth to do their best, play their hardest, and do what is necessary to accomplish the common goal of winning (within reason). Coaches should praise his or her team for winning, but should not scold his or her team for losing. It is understood there is a difference in coaching at different levels, between volunteer coaching high school basketball and being a coach who is paid to win games, coaches (no matter the level) should respect, teach, and appreciate their athletes. As a coach, if your team loses a game, you should take into consideration things like: noting what your team was weak on during the game, what the other team excelled on in order to overcome your team, and then use practice time to discuss with your team the strategies in which you can use to do better next time you play that particular team and practice the skills and plays that you think may give them a better chance next time.

    Coaches are one of the number one people in the sport world who should contribute to positive youth development. As you said in your post: “By establishing some form of coach-athlete relationship, it creates a supportive environment where the kids are more comfortable, improve their self-esteem, and other aspects that help with fostering youth development.” This is very true! To add on to that, coach-athletes relationships can provide the youth who don’t have supportive parents with that sense of being supported by someone. Coaches can act as a parent figure providing these youth with the support, encouragement, and celebration of succeeding that they need. Youth need to feel included, important, and as if they are an essential component to their activity or sport – teaching them that they can positively contribute to a number of things in their own unique way. Also, like said in the above comment, developing positive coach-athlete relationships with your athletes is a very strong determiner as to whether your athletes continue to come back to your program/sport. Youth are not going to be excited to go to soccer practice if they know their coach is going to yell at them and pick on them every time they mess up on a play or drill.

  8. danibhawk says:

    Great blog Oliver. I agree with you, when you said that recreation and sport aid in positive youth development. When you look at the developmental assets, almost all of them apply to coaches in some regards. Things such as support, and positive values, coaches directly impact youth in these regards. If you have a coach that does not aid in the developmental assets, it would take away from the youth’s experience. When you look at the framework of developmental assets, which we discussed in class, it states in order for youth to succeed, they need positive relationships, and opportunities. If you have a coach that does not build a relationship with the youth, like you said, it does not benefit them.
    I have had many experiences with a variety of coaches as well, as I have been playing sports all of my life. I can definitely see how certain coaches have helped me develop in a variety of ways. Not just in regards to the sport, but in my values as a person as well. Even though I have had bad experiences with coaches, I believe as a professional in the recreation industry, it has made me stronger. I have learned from their mistakes.
    Overall, great blog, and I think that this is a great topic.
    -Danielle H.

  9. james says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post I completely agree Youth programs are a great way to encourage positive youth development. Of course there is the issue that sport in today’s society is all about wining which in turn pressures coaches to win. Unfortunately positive youth development is not only achieved through winning which we learned in class. Positive youth development is to help youth become competent individuals. As you mentioned you believe coaches have forgotten the importance of this through lack of leadership skills and in some cases not being qualified to teach youth. From personally experience through football, hockey, baseball, and boxing all of my coaches have been excellent on establishing healthy relationships with their athletes. Of course there are some coaches such as one of the coaches I had when I played for the UNB Red Bombers. He was almost outdated and the style of his coaching did not help us as a championship team or anything to do with positive youth development. Likewise I believe that it is extremely important to develop a positive relationship with your youth.
    -James Howie

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