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High Quality Teaching Boosts Learning in Young Athletes

Critical duties of youth sport coaches and parents

Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Coaching
Source: Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Coaching

One of the primary functions of coaches is to teach the skills and strategies that athletes need to play sports competently and safely. Additionally, knowledgeable parents can supplement organized practice sessions by providing technical instruction to their kids. The seven approaches discussed below are emphasized by Dr. Terry Orlick, a Canadian sport psychologist. They can be used by coaches and parents to increase their teaching effectiveness and thereby optimize young athletes’ learning and performance.

Teaching approaches that work with young athletes.

1. Use simple strategies. The old KISS principle— Keep It Simple Stupid—should be scrapped and replaced with a variation of it—Keep Instruction Short and Simple. What does this mean with respect to teaching? In addition to limiting the amount of time consumed, instruction should be delivered at an age-appropriate level of detail, and it should be communicated in language that kids understand. This approach assists youngsters in forming a clear image of what they are attempting to accomplish.

2. Keep it fun. Nobody enjoys going through dry, matter-of-fact teaching progressions. An effective strategy is to creatively turn teaching-learning sessions into play. A playful approach is the best way to get concepts across to children and ensure they will continue to practice them. And, of course, the playfulness of an activity can be enhanced by “spicing it up” (i.e., by using a variety of learning exercises).

3. Focus on concrete, physical activities. Effective teaching strategies allow children to physically act out an image. This involves placing an emphasis on “doing” (i.e., active versus passive learning).

4. Use an individualized approach. Getting to know a child as a unique individual is very important. The better you get to know children, the better you can understand their strengths, limitations, and needs. This helps in adapting instruction to the child’s level of ability.

5. Try multiple approaches. Be flexible. If one approach doesn’t work for a particular child, try another. As you get to know children better and they begin to understand their options more clearly, approaches that fit the situation become more common.

6. Be positive and hopeful. Regardless of the setting (sports, school, summer camp, etc.) it’s important to project a positive belief in the child, in their strengths, and in their capacity to overcome obstacles and pursue personal goals. In essence, the self-fulfilling prophecy is a critical element in effective teaching.

7. Incorporate role models. Most children respond well to the use of role models. If well chosen, a role model can set a positive example to emulate. Videos of respected, high-performance athletes help younger athletes form a clearer image of moves they might like to learn. (For more information, see my Psychology Today blog titled “Are Athletes Good Role Models?”)

Do you want to learn more about coaching and parenting young athletes?

The Mastery Approach Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports are research-based videos that emphasize skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun. To access the videos, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website.