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Youth Sports Coaches Need to Set Realistic, Age-Appropriate Expectations

Understanding of child development and a child-centered approach critical

Youth sports coaches and parents should set realistic, age-appropriate expectations for athletes, which requires an understanding of child development, and being child- rather than adult-centered.

Coaches and parents should be aware that:

  • large physical and psychological differences are common, even among children the same age;    
  • children younger than eleven or twelve are not always emotionally and cognitively ready to compete as adults compete because they have not yet developed a mature understanding of the competitive process, and don't really care as much about winning and losing; andBaseball coach talking to player
  • pushing a child to do something for which he is not developmentally ready, like specializing too early, is not a good idea and can result in burnout or the child quitting the sport early. 

A good youth sports coach is also child- not adult-centered. He or she understands that the game belongs to the players, not the coach or parents, and that the players and the game should be focus, not the coach. A simple way for a coach to do that is to periodically ask him or herself, "Whose sport is it?" The answer should be the same every time: the athlete's. A coach is there to guide, motivate, help, teach and inspire, not to control or to gratify his or her ego.