Coaching Youth Teams: Five Ways to Empower Your Players

1) Ban the word “mistake”. This is such a powerful, negative word. The brain seems to latch on to it and not let go. If the focus is always on “mistakes”, then your players will keep making the same ones over and over again. This word triggers a vicious cycle of negativity. Replace the word “mistake” with the word “miss”. Nobody tries to miss. Your players will either make it or miss it.

2) Focus on what your players are doing well. When you focus on what your players are doing well, you are encouraging them, positively reinforcing what you want them to do, and therefore, increasing the likelihood they will repeat the behavior. Tell your players specifically what they are doing well. For example, “I liked the way you drove to the basket” or “I liked the way you moved to the short ball” or “I liked the way you came to net behind your serve.”

3) Stop constant critiquing. The best reason to stop constantly criticizing your players is because you run the risk of making them angry and resentful. If all you do is criticize, how can you be sure that your players will not give up or miss just to get back at you? Monitor and reduce the amount of negative feedback you give your players during practice and competition.

4) Make it safe for your players to take risks and learn new things. When you do this, your players will have more fun, improve, and develop more tools to win. You create a safe environment for your players to take risks and learn new shots by complimenting them when they try something new, focusing on the attempt not the outcome, and piquing their interest by saying something such as “I want to teach you a “specialty” shot to add to your game.”

5) Develop independent players. By developing independent players, you are increasing their self-esteem, helping them to be more resilient, and increasing their chances of success both in sports and “in the real world”. You can help players be more independent by limiting the amount of feedback you give during practice, not allowing them to look over at you constantly during competition, and requiring them to be responsible for certain aspects of their sport like having all of their necessary equipment/gear each day at practice.

These five coaching tips will empower your players to feel mentally and physically stronger, be more relaxed, play without fear, enjoy competition, and win more often.

Anne Smith, Ph.D. Copyright 2006 All Rights Reserved.