Coaching children and adults are two very different beasts. The different physical and psychological needs of kids, adolescents and indeed adults require a readjustment in how you approach your coaching session.
Seen as you aren't a kid anymore, it can often a daunting task when trying to get into the minds of children and maintain their enthusiasm during sport. To help you along, here are a number of pointers for engaging youth players in sport.
Get your expectations right
As an adult coach, you've trained through plenty of adult-tailored sessions and likely coached a few yourself. You'd be forgiven for simply sticking to what you know and applying that structure to youth sessions – but you'd be making a mistake if you did.
Children are not scaled down adults. It may seems obvious, but it means that you'll have to realign your expectations on why the participants in your youth session turn up and what's best for the their development. These expectations differ widely when compared to those of adults.
For kids, taking part in sport is predominantly done for fun. Unlike adults, the result, league table position and general competitive spirit to win at all costs aren't as strong – they turn up purely to engage in a healthy and exciting sporting activity.
If anything, as a coach you're preparing those players for the hustle and bustle of competitive adult action, where they'll be calling on all the skills and techniques you've developed for them to succeed during their childhood years.
Take the pressure off and treat your participants as people. Ranting and raving at a heavy defeat or working players into the ground during training will do nothing to feed their enthusiasm to turn up and play twice a week.
Don't just scale down an adult session and call it a youth session. Concentrate more on developing the skills they'll need to succeed in adult sport, and place much less emphasis on the final result.
Fun and creativity are the name of the game
To ensure youth participants feel consistently exciting by turning out for your team, fun is an ingredient you need to add in particularly large doses.
As a coach, knowing what participants 10, 20 or 30 years your junior find 'fun' is a tough nut to crack, but as a coach you just need to be as enthusiastic and engaging as possible.
As an adult, you probably reminisce about some of your more eccentric school teachers or coaches from years gone by. They were able to stick in your memory due to the colourful ways they challenged you as a youngster, communicating knowledge and developing your skills at that sport in the process. Enthusiasm is infectious and silly can often be a good thing – it allows the participants to broaden their imagination and enjoy the session even more.
Fun and competition can go hand in hand
Retracting a little on what we said earlier, competition is a healthy way to boost the fun factor in youth coaching. Introduce games into every aspect of your coaching session and participants will play off one another, striving to match their fellow players and improve in the process.
For you, it's important to frame these games as mainly fun-orientated. Don't emphasise a winner and loser during games, and don't skew the games to favour those who are the best at your chosen sport, or the biggest and strongest physically.
Recognise where different participant's strengths lie and tailor games to an even playing field. One final thing to consider – queues. As we've all learned from the Saturday rush to the bank, standing is queues is boring. Avoid them at all costs, splitting participants into pairs and allowing them to always be active if needs be.
Value their feedback and input
As a youth coach in sport, you're responsibility is much greater than just teaching kids a few tricks at your given sport. During their childhood years, kids are undergoing vital psychological development, and the role the youth coach plays in developing these areas can shape their adult life.
As a result, developing a child's confidence, self-esteem and motivation should be as central to your coaching as making them better at sport. One significant way you can do this is by feedback, both from coach to player and from player to coach.
Encourage participants to share their ideas at each and every opportunity. Get them each to write down an idea for what the next activity should be, and get their feedback on everything you do. Kids have better imaginations than adults, so put the enjoyment of their session in their hands.
At times, coaxing feedback out of children can be a difficult task, as can getting them to say what they really mean. So part of gauging their feedback will be down to your own interpretation. Look at each participant's enthusiasm and reaction to each task, and don't assume that if one child likes something the rest will too. If it isn't quite hitting the spot, change something (asking your participants what could make it better).
No matter the responses, remember to use positive reinforcement at all times. Compliment a good idea, encourage others to follow suit and ultimately be a constant injector of confidence.
Sport is inherently inspirational. Emulating their favourite international stars on the training pitch is what sport is all about, and positive sports experiences are often linked to continued participation into adulthood. So it's up to you as a coach to translate that inspirational vibe into your coaching sessions.
Again, inspiration isn't exactly tangible. But maintaining that passion and dedication to your chosen sport and taking the time to show that to your team will be enough to keep most players motivated throughout.
Appeal to the modern generation
In order to appeal to the iPhone generation, sometimes you've got to meet them at their level. Technology is becoming ever more applicable in sports coaching scenarios, and you can give your sessions a modern twist by getting in on the act. Take a look at our piece on using tech in your coaching for more.