Choosing a Coach for Your Youth Athlete

by Hillary Cauthen: PsyD, CMPC and AASP member

Weekends are full of loading children, gear, and snacks galore in the car to travel to the next tournament or sporting event. Watching your child enjoy running and laughing with friends as they learn to execute sport skills is a common experience for many families. New year, new sport seasons upon us and it’s time to decide what team to sign your child up for. How does one decide which team is best or even what sport is best for your child? One tip is to talk with your child and explore what would make them happy. Sport can offer a variety of learning experiences and valuable life lessons with the correct environment. 

The primary reason youth want to play sport is for fun and enjoyment. It is important to talk with your child and explore what sport they want to play, where will they have the most fun while learning the X’s and O’s of the game. Picking the “right” team may come down to a variety of factors. Perhaps you have used the following when deciding which team to sign your child up for: 

  • Is the practice schedule convenient for our family?
  • How much travel is involved?
  • Does the cost fit within our budget?
  • Does our child have friends on the team?
  • How much knowledge of the sport do I have?
  • Is this a winning team?
  • Will this team help our child prepare for collegiate athletics?

These are all significant points that can impact your decision to sign your child up for a sport team, but a primary factor is missing among this list, the coach. Have you considered what coach may be the best fit for your child? The coach-athlete relationship is a unique and powerful dynamic and it is important that the coach can meet their emotional, cognitive, and physical developmental needs. 

Children and adolescents participating in youth sport are at a vulnerable developmental age. They are influenced greatly by external feedback and their learning environment can have a significant impact on their future development. Children develop intimate emotional bonds with their parents, and then with their school teachers throughout the day. The next primary person to have such a strong and significant impact on the emotional and mental psyche is a sport coach. Children behave for their parents, perform to please for both parents and teachers. When moving into a sport environment it is natural for the child to want to please the coach. The child is emotionally connecting with the coach and seeking approval, validation, consistent feedback to assist in developing technical skills and validation as a person. 

Finding the best team for your child needs to move away from convenience of schedule, win records, and scouting reports to choosing the best coach and sport environment that will allow your child to thrive—in and out of the sport setting. When choosing the right environment and coach for your child, you may want to explore these questions to help you find an ideal coach-athlete fit:

  • Can this coach provide a positive learning experience for my child?
  • Will my child have fun playing for this coach?
  • Will this coach praise and acknowledge my child?
  • Will my child learn technical, tactical skills?
  • How will this coach punish the team and my child for mistakes?
  • How important is winning to this coach and team?
  • Do I know and agree with this coach’s philosophy of practice?
  • Can I trust this coach to teach life lessons and care for my child beyond their athletic talent?

Choosing the right coach for your child is like choosing the right pair of shoes. You want them to be comfortable, adaptable and with room to grow. A positive coach-athlete relationship allows the child to take risks, fail, succeed and build confident autonomy in themselves. Take time in selecting a coach and sport experience for you and your child. Signing your child up for sport is giving trust to one or more individuals to have a significant impact on your child’s development. Ensure you are giving your child the best chance for success and happiness by choosing a coach who will want more for your child than a winning record. https://appliedsportpsych.org/

Founded in 1985, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) is the leading organization for sport psychology consultants and professionals who work with athletes, coaches, non-sport performers (dancers, musicians), business professionals, and tactical occupations (military, firefighters, police) to enhance their performance from a psychological standpoint.

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