Fifteen Traps That Youth Coaches Often Fall Into

1. Fundamentals before the game? Not necessarily!

The traditional approach to developing young athletes emphasizes building a foundation before the game begins. Coaches focus on practicing technique, strength and conditioning aspects, and tactics in isolation from the actual game context.

But is this the best way to learn?

It is easy to forget that games have always accompanied children, and their use did not require the supervision of specialized trainers. They did not require the presence of adults at all. The first contact children had with soccer or basketball was in the backyard. I remember they didn’t lay out cones for slalom and analyze the technique. There were games (often neighborhood “classics”) if there were enough participants. If not, there were 101 supplementary games, the rules of which could be modified depending on conditions, players, and weather. We now understand from numerous studies the significant role the backyard has played in shaping attitudes, competence, and love for sports today. It also raised the best “wizards” of team sports. How is it possible to achieve this without extensive hours of fundamental training under the supervision of a qualified coach?

We learn through experience. When our engagement meets the right conditions, our body will invest much to adapt and generate effective solutions. Context, which is the flow of specific information, is needed for the movement to become functional over time. Practicing fundamentals in isolation not only lacks engagement in most cases but also lacks aspects of the environment that the athlete uses to control his behavior and movement.

  • The key is to tailor the action (calibration) to the critical information (attunement) within the constraints (task, environment, person). The essence is to pose challenges or problems to young people they will face in real competitions. The situations must be rich in specific information so the young person can adapt and adjust actions. The representativeness of the tasks, combined with an appropriate level of difficulty, allows for the development of specific skills.
  • When children attend training, please take a moment to create a game with complexity, difficulty, or rules that will allow them to experience joy, which is what they came for.

2. Is fun an add-on? It’s crucial!

Many people view play as an addition to training, something like a reward for “work” completed.

Unfortunately, this is a big mistake!

Playing in children’s, youth, and adult sports is essential as it is the primary and most effective tool for building focus, engagement, and attachment.

  • Having fun increases motivation. Children who have fun are more eager to practice and learn.
  • Playing improves concentration. When children are engaged in play, it is easier for them to focus on the task.
  • Playing encourages creativity. In the play, children experiment and try out new solutions.
  • Playing builds self-confidence. When children are thriving in play, their self-confidence grows.
  • Playing reduces stress. It helps children cope with pressure and tension.
  • Games and play effortlessly provide all the aspects many coaches attempt to achieve artificially in tedious drills.

3. Is winning more important than development? Think about it!

It’s impossible to prioritize winning and long-term development simultaneously in youth sports. While children naturally strive to win, as a coach, it’s essential to prioritize their long-term development. This concept can be challenging because we often assume that winning directly reflects talent and preparation at each stage. However, this approach doesn’t align with reality. Frequently, the strategies coaches use to improve a team’s chances of winning can negatively affect the long-term goals of young players. Factors like playing time and training opportunities often depend on players’ maturity, leading to results that are determined by temporary advantages. A game plan based on rigid patterns may yield short-term success against less adaptable young players, but it also hinders your team’s adaptability development.

  • When working with young people, we need to set goals wisely and consciously, considering the mechanisms that determine the effectiveness of young people’s development and their preparation for functioning in the target environment.

4. Tired? Forget about speed!

Team sports coaches place great importance on improving their team’s movement speed. They invest significant time in training to enhance this quality, with numerous exercises focused on moving with maximum intention. Despite this, the community still struggles to change this quality positively. The reason lies in the conditions.

Speed, like learning a new skill, requires specific conditions. In addition to intention, the athlete’s body must be in a state of adequate readiness (freshness). Readiness should be considered on different time scales, considering the athlete’s initial state and the changes during training. Trainers must carefully manage the training load and monitor fatigue levels to achieve this. Once the right conditions are established, a practical methodology must be ensured, involving a limited number of high-quality, high-intensity exercises, sets, or repetitions with short durations and sufficient rest breaks. All of these factors determine the direction and power of adaptation.

5. Models of the game? Start with the principles!

The child must first learn the universal principles before introducing the game model (if ever). Education of attention and intention, setting the hierarchy of goals, and exposure to critical problems in the game are essential here.

6. Talent identification? Development first!

As much as possible, as long as possible, as best as possible…

Why? Sports are designed to consciously and deliberately create an environment where a young person can blossom as an athlete and have opportunities to form individually and socially useful competencies.

On the other hand, if we already desire to raise a future champion, then:

  • As much as possible, as long as possible, as best as possible…

Why? Currently, no talent identification tool provides such an opportunity before the end of puberty, and even then, it is challenging.

What to do?

Instead of focusing on talent identification, let’s focus on talent development.

7. Copy – Paste? It doesn’t work!

Every team is unique and has specific needs. Activities should be tailored to these needs for the development process to be effective. Inadequate requirements can result in boredom or a defensive attitude, leading to closure or withdrawal.

Frequently, I encounter a systematic development of requirements and a methodology customized to the players’ age. However, for obvious reasons, such a model cannot be effective. Despite having a similar calendar age, players can differ significantly in biological development, maturity, or training age. The family or school situation is also a vast and complex factor.

To effectively influence the development process, one must have knowledge of the discipline and, above all, assess the actual state and adapt actions to real needs.

Needs analysis enables us to create an environment where all young athletes can enjoy sports and achieve their goals.

8. Are errors a lack of quality? Learning doesn’t look pretty.

The traditional training culture in sports, focused on perfecting movement patterns and routines, has been driven by a fear of coaches losing control. This approach assesses training quality based on how accurately it replicates specific activities, treating any deviation as an error that must be immediately corrected. However, this mindset is harmful as it fails to recognize that sports, at its core, is about problem-solving in an ever-changing environment. Finding solutions in sports requires taking risks, showing courage, and understanding that mistakes are a natural part of the process.

  • Fear of making mistakes can paralyze children and stifle their creativity. Kids focus on avoiding errors instead of taking risks and finding new solutions.
  • Fear of making mistakes lowers motivation. Children who fear making mistakes are less likely to continue learning and developing.
  • Fear of error leads to frustration and discouragement.

9. Youth coach – for a while? A valuable specialist!

Working with children and young people in sports is not just a transitional stage in a “serious” coaching career.
This is a vital and responsible role that requires specialized knowledge and skills.

Why?

Certainly! Here’s the revised text:

  • Children and adolescents comprise a specific audience with distinct needs and capabilities compared to adults.
  • Youth sports should not solely focus on competition but should prioritize learning, fun, and development.
  • Coaches play a pivotal role in the development of young athletes. They can inspire and support them in reaching higher levels, but
  • unfortunately, they also have the power to diminish their passion.

That’s why it’s crucial for coaches working with children and young people to be experts in this field.

10. Shouting? Find another solution!

The shouting often occurs as a culmination of earlier mistakes made by the coach.

  • Screaming demeans and humiliates children.
  • Screaming causes fear and frustration.
  • Shouting discourages further learning and development.
  • Shouting destroys motivation.
  • Shouting builds a hostile atmosphere.

11. Mental resilience? Try to understand why!

If something is important to you, you will find a way; if not, you will find an excuse. The trick is to make something important to young people.

In youth sports, there is often an emphasis on building “mental toughness.” This approach overlooks the essential issues of motivation and commitment.

Why might focusing on “mental toughness” be insufficient?

  • It does not consider the individual needs and motivations of young athletes.
  • It instills in a young person the need to constantly seek external motivating factors.
  • It can lead to excessive pressure and subsequent burnout.
  • It may overlook the underlying problems of lack of commitment.

Instead of fixating on “mental toughness,” it’s time to shift our focus to:

  • Understand the motivations behind young people’s participation in sports.
  • Establish a supportive and safe environment for them.
  • Assist them in developing coping skills.
  • Emphasize fostering enjoyment in the game.
  • Foster a community and culture that encourages resilience in the face of challenges.

12. Hiding a weakness? No – exposure to the problem!

If we want the players to improve and grow, we must put them in uncomfortable situations, even if they make mistakes or lose. Coaches often prioritize winning at all costs in children’s and youth sports. This leads them to manage players in a way that hides their weaknesses and only showcases their strengths. However, this approach prevents players from addressing critical areas for their development. Players need to face challenges that will help them develop the skills they need to succeed at higher levels of the sport.

  • The coach’s role is to create an environment where players face challenges that “de-skill” them from using only what is comfortable for them and gradually expand their specific competencies.

13. Early assignment of positions? Swap it for comprehensive development!

No single position on the field can offer a player enough varied incentives (such as field placement, tasks, and opponents’ positions) to develop their potential fully. To help young men achieve high sportsmanship, we must provide them with a comprehensive experience. This experience will serve as the foundation for developing specific skills related to a particular role on the team when the time comes.

14. Lack of youth-led activity? Create the conditions!

No backyards mean adults manage all children’s activities. Responsibility, creativity, communication—children need time when no one tells them what to do or judges their actions. This is one of the factors influencing development, which has unnoticeably but dramatically changed to the disadvantage of young people in recent times. Despite the enormous role of independent activity in maturation and development, we have easily succumbed as a society to the vision of a safe and controlled world in which children, like on an assembly line, are subjected to planned activity patterns to reach their full potential. It’s easy to forget what a vast role daily encounters with peers played in our development, where children of different ages organized games, solved conflicts, had adventures, and got bored. It’s easy to see what a valuable mine of competence the amazing backyard was.

15. One-sided communication? Informed dialogue is needed!

Ask and listen. Don’t judge, and don’t expect specific answers. The information you will hear is outside any book. Imagine a world where the relationships between young people and adults are based on dialogue, respect, and mutual understanding.

  • Instead of talking, ask. Ask open-ended questions that encourage reflection and sharing of thoughts. Don’t expect specific answers; give space for free speech.
  • Instead of judging, listen. Listen carefully without interrupting or criticizing. Focus on the child’s words, body language, and emotions. Try to understand his point of view, even if it differs from yours.
  • Remember that children are not little adults. They have their own needs, fears, and desires. Creating an atmosphere of trust and security is essential so they feel free to share thoughts with you.
  • Open yourself to your child’s world. Ask about his hobbies and friends. Show interest in his daily life. Show that he is important to you and that his opinion matters.
  • Dialogue is not just words. It’s also gestures, facial expressions, and body language. Smile, look into the eyes, show interest. Let the child know you are there for him and ready to listen.
  • The benefits of dialogue are immense. It fosters solid and trusting relationships, aids in understanding the needs and issues of young people, and contributes to their personal identity development

Related Articles

Individual Qualities vs Positional Demands

Individual Qualities vs Positional Demands One frequent question I get from coaches and try to resolve myself is whether the conditioning should be based on individual characteristics (MAS, YOYO, VMAX, etc) OR based on position demands? Regarding the position demands: how do we quantify them and what is the worthwhile difference (SWC) between positions that warrants different training prescription?…

Interview with Professor Keith Davids

I am very proud to present the email interview I had with Professor Keith Davids, the leading researcher in the motor control and learning field, author of couple of books and the professor at the School of Human Movement Studies at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. I would like to thank Professor Davids for his time and…

Responses

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cancel Membership

Please note that your subscription and membership will be canceled within 24h once we receive your request.