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!
Regional Operations Manager