Play the Rating Game When Coaching Young Athletes

As you watch your child practice it’s tempting to deliver all your information by “telling” him the answers to every imperfection. Your analytical side is dying to make the necessary corrections so he or she can be a super star.

There are two problems with this approach. First, your child is going to become resentful of the fact that you are always correcting, as if to say, “You’re not good enough yet.” Secondly, giving him or her the answers by “telling” does not create a thinking athlete.
What’s your approach to coaching?  Are you a member of the “errors” club or the “excellence” club?

Coaches in the “errors” club always watch for mistakes and point them out.  They have a well-developed eye for catching people doing things poorly, and correcting them. On the other hand, coaches in the “excellence” club have a unique way of correcting errors by coaching through the excellence they see in their athlete. They’re masters at catching people doing things well and improving on weaknesses in the context of existing strengths.

Chumps focus on errors, while champs focus on excellence.

Therefore, a coach who calls attention to what works, and dwells on existing strengths, builds a student’s confidence that will be essential to overcoming weaknesses.  A coach who continually points out mistakes, describes every error, and paints vivid pictures of an athlete’s deficiencies, is constantly reinforcing the very behavior that needs to disappear! It’s counterproductive.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your athlete is the ability to think and make decisions about techniques and strategies.

Here’s an exercise that helps this process and keeps you from becoming a nag. Play the rating game! When trying to make progress on a particular skill, ask your child to rate himself/herself from 1 to 10 on an attempt. A 10 equals perfection and a 1 is the worst execution possible.

Giving himself/herself a score creates awareness of the area needing work. If he/she says, “That was a 5,” your response can be, “Okay, let’s see if you can show me a 6 on the next one.”

Kids are amazingly honest with themselves about their scores. The second and third attempts will generate a greater focused effort in the hopes of earning a higher score from themselves.

Next ask him/her, “What would you have to do differently for it to be a 7?”

Watch the wheels turn and get ready for a new level of intensity.

The key is to present the challenge, ask good questions, keep it fun, and let your child draw his/her conclusions about the lesson that was learned. Now you have a thinking athlete!

Here are some sample skills that can be rated 1 to 10 by your child.

  • The amount of arc on a jump shot (basketball).
  • Proper glove position fielding a grounder (baseball).
  • Quickness getting into position before hitting the ball (tennis).
  • Body position at dismount (gymnastics).
  • Accuracy in “setting” (volleyball).
  • Pacing during a race (swimming, track, or triathlon).
  • Being in the best position to receive a pass (hockey, football, 

Everything Growing Champions For Life does is to help sport organizations create the most positive learning environment for athletes, parents, and coaches. I have shared our strategies with stakeholders in many sports. If you are interested in learning more about our in-person seminars and workshops, webinar series or online learning program, I would love to hear from you.


What great questions can you ask your child that simulate thinking?

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