Junior Coaches Play a Critical Role with OUR Kids

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Community junior coaches play a critical role in providing opportunities for players to develop motor skills, physical health, social skills and to nurture the enjoyment of sport for our young. The fundamental aim of kids playing sport should be to enjoy participation in a safe and positive environment.

Unfortunately, all too often we see junior coaches focus on winning rather than the development of their young athletes. In general, communication skills are not a strong point in junior coaches and there is a lack of clear and concise instructions. A belief that coaches need to be continually talking and ‘instructing players leads to over-coaching. There is often minimal use of questioning and empowering the young player and there is a clear need to increase corrective and positive feedback.

In most cases a coaches accreditation appears to have very little influence on the type of training session conducted in terms of what players do or what behaviours coaches display. The components of a training session (6-12 years) should predominantly focus on skill development, playing games, decision-making and lastly fitness levels.

Statistics show that 61% of our junior coaches display an authorisation leadership coaching style, which is ultimately classified as a ‘coach-centred’ approach to coaching. Junior coaches prefer their players to participate in various activities as a whole group with little pair or individual practice. The reliance on ‘whole group’ activities reduces the opportunities players have to complete specific skill development and make decisions and ultimately experience individual improvement.

Another factor to consider when dealing with our kids development is the ‘coach – parent relationship.’ Parental input during training sessions and particularly at games can be detrimental to the wellbeing of the team and the coach. Coaches are not well trained in how to influence the attitude of parents or to reduce conflict from the sideline. This results in coaches feeling more pressure and less enjoyment.


I am careful not to stereotype all junior coaches, as I know there are fantastic teachers and coaches within junior sport at all levels. I certainly understand as a parent, coach, mentor and working within the football profession that generally voluntary coaching positions are done under a needs basis rather than filled because a junior coach aspires to be the next national coach in his / her chose sport.

My article has a consideration and focus on participation and enjoyment as the specific aims of junior coaching rather than a winning at all cost mentality. I have witnessed coaches who continually do not use their bench and rotate players each week because they focus on playing their ‘best players’ to win the game. Contrary to this, I have witnessed coaches who spend one-on-one time with players and encourage within a positive team environment. The latter, results in greater enjoyment, participation and improvement levels for young athletes.

A few suggestions to improve a junior coaches development mentality within your club:

Suggest an evaluation system for coaches. This may include the identification of 2 things under the following 3 headings:

1. What I need to start doing

2. What I need to stop doing

3. What I need to keep doing

These can be determined by the coach themselves or in consultation with their players, mentor, other coaches or ‘assistant’ parents.

Another suggestion is prior planning before a training session or match day and continual learning will assist coaches in providing players with greater opportunities for deliberate ‘play’ (games) and practice.

Consider adopting a ‘long term athlete development’ or ‘development model of sports participation’ framework. This would encourage a greater emphasis on ‘games’ play for 9-12 year olds.

Encouragement of small group activities to increase player involvement and decision-making opportunities. This would supplement whole group activities. Rather than coaches becoming frustrated with low numbers at training, the coach needs to be adaptable to change training plans quickly to meet new situations.

Generally our junior coaches do a fantastic job and we clearly need to offer continued support and opportunities for self-improvement, which increases our kids enjoyment and longevity in sport.

Ultimately, junior sport IS ABOUT fun, participation and enjoyment. We need to see our kids continue to play sport with a smile on their face regardless of the win / loss ratio.

See you at the footy!

Justin Abrams

Regional Operations Manager


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Investing time and energy in building strong professional relationships is critical to developing levels of mutual trust and respect in a team environment. Once we genuinely trust and respect each other, we then allow ourselves engage in regular, honest dialogue about individual and team performance and increase our capacity to improve.”


When you create and manage strong professional relationships within your teams, the natural link to high-level performance is having more open dialogue around behaviour and performance so that issues can be raised and addressed, and no avoidance occurs. In contrast, teams that don’t have any relationships with one another tend to let issues go, a blind eye is turned, or issues are raised with third parties.

The stronger the professional relationship, the more staff are enabled to have the conversations that need to be had in order to underpin performance, particularly high-level performance. The stronger the relationship, particularly under pressure in challenging situations, the better teams can work through issues and come out the other side better, stronger, and more unified.

Purpose is important here – we don’t want to build professional relationships for no particular reason. Ultimately, relationships are built so that team members can talk with any member of the team about the business of the team. It’s also important to give people the opportunity to learn the skills that will enable them to have those conversations.


1. Spend time trying to understand others’ perspectives, listening with an open mind and without judgment.

2. Encourage others to voice their opinions. What do they care about? How do they interpret what’s going on? Why?

3. Before expressing your ideas, try to anticipate how others will react to them and how you might best explain them.

4. When expressing your ideas, don’t just give a bottom line, explain your reasoning process.

5. Assess the strengths of your current connections: How well do you relate to others when receiving advice? When giving advice? When thinking through difficult problems? When asking for help?

Now we are at the half-way point of Season 2014, I would encourage all of our Clubs to continue to build relationships both internally and externally. Prioritise, and start your succession planning for Season 2015. Focus on retention of your current playing list, secure your coaches, identify gaps in your playing list and work on your recruitment strategy, consider your executive appointments and succession planning for important roles and volunteers. Implement a structure and process to allow these conversations to happen and reap the rewards in the off-season.

See you at the footy!

Justin Abrams
Regional Operations Manager

* Some of the text used in this article is courtesy of Leading Teams

Positive Sports Coaching - Feedback

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Earlier this year I attended the AFL Coaches Conference in Adelaide to further my knowledge and enhance my continuous improvement as a Level 2 Coach. The key interest for me was the session on “Feedback – leading challenging conversations to successful outcomes”.


One thing as a coach that I learnt very early on was what is measurable becomes attainable…so feedback was imperative. I was also lucky enough during my Level 2 Coaching accreditation to be inspired by one of the presenters, Matthew Scholes who focused on Positive Sports Coaching. Positive Sports Coaching is a strength-based approach built around the science of positive psychology. It has a clear focus on building player optimism, resilience and improving their wellbeing. The bonus is this will also improve individual and team performance.

It was fair to say that my philosophy of player feedback changed very quickly and I found myself adopting a more strength-based and positive approach with my players. In fact, what I had done was empower my players to improve in a more positive environment and be accountable for their own improvement levels.

Some of the below outcomes are what I adopted based around a positive, strength based
feedback loop:

• Moving from a command and control, directing and telling to a highly engaging style by asking power questions and demonstrating deep active listening skills

• Creating awareness of active listening, checking in and agreement questions when giving feedback

• Learning the critical steps in framing a conversation before providing feedback

• Keep the feedback relevant, precise, honest and specific with outcomes for improvement

• Empower the player with accountability for their performance

• Ask relevant questions which lead to further specific conversation around positive improvement

• Encourage players to write down their 5 best positive after each game

“We talk about improving players deficiencies but the best players play to their strengths week in week out” - Paul Roos

I have learnt through positive sports coaching that once we genuinely trust and respect each other, we then allow ourselves engage in regular, honest dialogue about individual and team performance and increase our capacity to improve.

The final consideration in the importance of positive feedback is how to deliver the feedback and what language we use. The words you use make a difference. If you want to change a player you need to change the way you speak yourself. Move your language patterns to a more positive dialogue.

Consider the vehicle you use to delivery your feedback. Is it best one-on-one and face-to-face, do individuals prefer small group or collective feedback, do they respond better to written, verbal or via technology mediums including text messages, social media or vision?

Finally, don’t wait for the right moment to adopt a Positive Sports Coaching, strength-based approach. My advice is to start from where you stand, start now and take action quickly, as you will not only grow better relationships with you players but also assist them to improve and reach their full potential.

Justin Abrams

Regional Operations Manager
AFL Central Victoria

AFL Central Vic in a Good Headspace

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At headspace Bendigo you can receive support from a range of professionals including youth workers, sexual health workers, social workers, alcohol and other drug workers.  These workers are skilled in listening to young people and can help you identify problems, goals and achieve creative solutions to issues.