Teaching Sport Skills Effectively

How to teach skills that athletes need to play sports competently and safely.

Posted Jan 23, 2021

USAG- Humphreys/Flickr
Source: USAG- Humphreys/Flickr

This post is primarily directed at youth sport coaches, but its content is also relevant for parents. Why? Because parents often find themselves in a teaching role outside of the sport environment.

Young athletes expect coaches to help them satisfy their desire to become as skilled as possible. Therefore, coaches must establish their teaching role as early as possible. In doing this, emphasis should be given to the fun and learning part of sport. And, of course, athletes should be made aware that a primary coaching goal is to help them develop their athletic potential.

All Athletes Need Attention

During each practice or game, it’s critical that every youngster gets recognized at least once. Who usually gets the most recognition? Either stars or youngsters who are causing problems typically draw the most attention. But here’s the point: Average athletes need attention, too! A good technique is to occasionally keep a tally of how often you talk with each athlete to make sure that personal contact is being appropriately distributed.

Key Teaching Principles

The Mastery Approach to Coaching is a scientifically validated coaching-education program that has been shown to have desirable effects on youngsters’ personal, social, and athletic development. It’s specifically designed to teach coaches how to create a mastery climate—a learning environment that emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun. The program includes coverage of several instructional principles that help coaches to create a good learning atmosphere.

  • Always give instructions positively.
  • When giving instructions, be clear and concise.
  • If possible, show athletes the correct technique (demonstrate).
  • Reinforce effort and progress.

For explanations and illustrations, see the video titled Sport Psychology and Coaching, which is posted on YouTube.

Give Athletes Support

When an athlete has had a poor practice or a rough game (as we all have), the youngster should not go home feeling bad. They should get some kind of support—a pat on the back, a high-five, a kind word ("Hey, we're going to work that out. I know what you're going through, but everyone has days like this sometimes."). Athletes should not leave feeling detached from their coach or teammates, or feeling like a "loser."

References

Smith, R.E., & Smoll, F.L. (2012). Sport Psychology for Youth Coaches. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Smoll, F.L., & Smith, R.E. (Producers). (2009). Mastery Approach to Coaching [Video]. Seattle, WA: Youth Enrichment in Sports.