Coaching = Teaching

“There is nothing mysterious about developing a good team, because coaching is nothing more than teaching. Coaches impart the techniques to the players. The better job they do, the better job the players will do.” —John McKay, former college and professional football coach

Young athletes expect coaches to help them satisfy their desire to become as skilled as possible. Therefore, you must establish your teaching role as early as possible. In doing this, emphasize the fun and learning part of sport, and let your athletes know that a primary coaching goal is to help them develop their athletic potential.

All Athletes Need Attention

During each practice or game, be sure that every youngster gets recognized at least once. Athletes who usually get the most recognition are (a) stars or (b) those who are causing problems. Average athletes need attention, too! A good technique is to occasionally keep a count of how often you talk with each athlete to make sure that your personal contact is being appropriately distributed.

Key Teaching Principles

Based on over 25 years of research and experience, several principles have been identified for creating a mastery climate—a learning environment that emphasizes skill development, personal and team success, maximum effort, and fun in youth sports.

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

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 badly.

  • The player should get some kind of support from you—a pat on the back, a kind word (“Hey, we’re going to work that out. I know what you’re going through, but everyone has days like that sometimes.”)
  • Athletes should not leave feeling detached from you or feeling like a “loser.”

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., for this article. Dr. Smoll is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington and co-director of the Youth Enrichment in Sports program ( See a preview of his Mastery Approach to Coaching DVD here.

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