HELP THEM FALL IN LOVE WITH THE GAME
As an early education and grade school-aged youth sports programming professional, I know I have a unique opportunity to impact young athletes, at the beginning of their athletic journeys. The best way I know how to do this is to prioritize ‘the experience’ over the win. In most cases young athletes don’t quit sports over a win or a loss. When we see young athletes leave a sport, it is almost always tied to the experience.
If you as a coach or instructor can create a culture that is both competitive and fun, at the youth level, you can win at both. The truth is you don’t have to be an expert at any specific sport to engage young athletes. What you have to do is to be open-minded and willing to think outside the box in order to relate and connect with the young people you are coaching.
My recommendation on how to connect with these young athletes is to meet them where they’re at. It is so easy as a coach or instructor to have certain expectation of the athletes we coach, to assume they’re at a skill level because of age, size or grade. However, the reality is, you are the coach…so coach. It is that simple.
If the young athlete is at your camp, your class or on your team, you have to look past what you expect and provide the skill development to reach the next level. The next level will be different for every young athlete but how you get them to that next level will speak to your ability to connect with them. Your job is to strengthen the skills they have, to strengthen the skills that they lack and to acknowledge the non-sports related area where they may also need encouragement.
Building confidence will be key. Celebrating early success often will help to keep them hungry for more and working hard to gain more of that same encouragement. Let’s stop worrying about getting the “W” right away and start focusing on building mentally strong young athleteswho can fall in love with the game. When they love the game, their hard work and dedication will lead to the wins!