When we think of coaching - especially great coaching - we probably think of coaches that possess great technical knowledge of his or her sport along with intense personalities and strong motivational charisma. While these descriptions probably do describe the really effective coaches, they are, however, mostly coaches of adult athletes. What? Isn't coaching athletes essentially the same regardless of age? Nope, coaching adults is quite different from coaching kids, especially really young kids.
These articles will explore some of the subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of young athletes from a child psychology perspective. Much of what will be discussed will have an emphasis on the initial meeting and the new athlete/coach association. Being able to win over the comfort and confidence of a young athlete is not just about being knowledgeable in your sport. It's also about understanding what young athletes want and being able to quickly show them you are there to help them improve their athletic abilities.
A talented young athlete is still a child
When we see a young athlete with extraordinary talent, it's easy to forget that talent is wrapped inside the body, and mind, of a child. Kids think differently than grown ups, especially when they are younger. Their logic is pretty black and white. Abstract thinking and conceptualization - not to be confused with creative thinking or imagination - doesn't really start developing until the adolescent years. In short, kids lack the vocabulary, technical knowledge, and life experience to be able to effectively interpret abstract concepts.
Coaching explanations must be succinctly descriptive and presented with a vocabulary that's on the level of the athlete's intelligence and maturity, not age. Analogies are an effective method of explanation so long as they stay within a topic that the athlete already knows. For instance, nothing will be more frustrating to a bright young athlete than to be spoken to like "a little kid".
Talking over the head of a young kid is equally counterproductive. Just because a kid may have superstar talent doesn't automatically mean they have superstar intellect. Using lofty jargon or complex concepts with a youngster of average intelligence may not only be interpreted as demeaning, but it also tends to be downright boring. Either way, the coach will lose the interest of the young athlete for no other reason than the coach was trying to coach the talent, not the person. Just keep in mind, the two cannot be separated.
Michael Nyitray has coached high school bowlers in south Miami for the past four seasons. He also has developed a bowling program for high school bowl-ers in Broward County (FL). Nyitray has hosted and facilitated bowling clinics throughout central and south Florida, as well as annually provided hundreds of individual and group lessons. Nyitray is the 2010 National Developmental Coach of the Year.
FUNdamental Note: These articles are published with permission from the United States Olympic Committee & their "Olympic Coach e-zine Winter 2012" issue.