What Every Kid Hopes for In a Youth Sports Coach

The auditorium was full of youth sports coaches from a variety of sports. They represented a wide spectrum of years of experience, sports knowledge, and coaching skills. I had two questions for them, and I knew the first one would trigger split-second responses without much contemplation. “When you’re staring at all the kids on your new team, on the very first day of the season, what are you hoping for?”

Here’s a list of what I heard:

  • Kids who have speed
  • Good height
  • Focus, or ability to concentrate
  • A desire to learn
  • Hard workers
  • Kids who listen

After compiling their answers, I asked the second question, and I knew it would take them a little longer to answer this one. “If I had all those kids in front of me now, and I asked them what THEY hope for in a coach on the first day of practice, what would they say?” There was a long pause of thoughtful contemplation this time.

Here’s what they eventually said:

  • A good coach (knows the sport)
  • Someone who can make practice fun
  • A coach who is fair and gets to know each child
  • She gives every kid a chance to play
  • He doesn’t yell all the time!

There was a collective “Aha!” when we compared the two lists.

What do you notice?

Coaches tend to focus their wants on qualities that increase the chances for great performances. Athletes focus their wants on qualities that make for a positive environment in which to learn.

3 Qualities of Great Youth Sports Coaches

The ultimate question is this: “What do the best coaches do that produces the best of both worlds?” What are the top three qualities of coaches who stimulate improved performances AND inspire the kind of sports experience that have kids coming back for more?

Here’s my list of those qualities:

1. A desire to get to know their athletes - both in terms of personality and skills. When coaches want to know each athlete as an individual, a special relationship evolves. This is more meaningful for both the coach and the athlete than when the coach just thinks it’s good to know a little about each player. Investing in a relationship builds trust, credibility, and mutual respect. Kids actually want to have this kind of relationship with an adult they admire.

2.  An ability to juggle three key objectives simultaneously:

a) Keep it Fun – Practices that are fun can also be hard work. It’s a creative coach that knows how to infuse humor into the tedious work of conditioning and drills. Kids will long remember the fun of sports if their coach was intentional about allowing laughter in the locker room.

b) Develop Skills – Children love to learn new skills. Coaches who know how to teach, how to convey information, and how to creatively help kids execute new motor skills make sports rewarding, even when they’re not winning. A good coach helps an athlete go from Point A to Point B in their athletic journey. A GREAT coach helps an athlete also go from Point A to Point B in their life journey. In both cases, developing usable skills is the purpose, and Point B is a significant distance from Point A.

c) Teach Winning and Losing – Learning how to compete, and learning how to handle winning and losing requires good coaching. When children can execute their skills under the pressure of competition, they have conquered self-doubt and fear on that occasion. Effective coaches also teach their athletes the emotional skills for coping with the ups and downs of winning and losing.

3. A hunger for learning about the sport and the art of coaching. The best coaches have an insatiable hunger for learning continuously about their sport. They are students of their coaching craft as well. These coaches are sponges for new information, new training techniques, and the most recent theories on training and competing. They coach with confidence, and they learn with humility; meaning, they never think they know everything. There’s always more to learn. You’ll recognize these coaches by the questions they ask, more than by the absolute answers they give.


Coaches hold a position of great influence. Many high school athletes will claim a coach as one of the most influential people in their life. For this reason, it’s very important that coaches bring more than an egotistical desire to win competitions to the youth sports arena. Young athletes are looking for more and will continue to drop out of sports prematurely unless they find coaches with a mature perspective on the whole experience. They’ll be looking for coaches who have a desire to know their athletes individually, an ability to juggle fun, development, and competition, and a hunger for continuous learning. Lucky is the athlete who finds this coach!

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