Posted by: Jerry Norton | May 31, 2009

In Youth Sports, Coaches and Parents Make the Difference

I came across an article recently ( in which Nicole LaVoi, assistant professor of psychology and director of sports education programming at Notre Dame reinforces the belief that coaches and parents play key roles in determining the quality of the youth sports experience. 

Even though it was posted in 2005, I would like to share it with you now because it remains as true today as it was then and is such a vital element in the pursuit of Better Sports for Kids.

“Athletes are in a flawed system, because there is little to no training given to youth coaches for how to provide a nurturing climate for kids,” LaVoi said. “If you want to build character and sportsmanship, you have to intentionally create a climate that fosters those attitudes and behaviors. Most youth coaches have no idea how to do that.”

LaVoi went on to say “There’s a real lack of quality coach education based on social science research in this country. It’s amazing, especially when you look at the training given to other people who deal with kids, and then look at the lack of training for coaches.”

Regarding parents, LaVoi observed,  “Spectator behavior is the greatest predictor of good or bad sportsmanship among kids in grades five through eight,” she said. “Behavior isn’t predicated on what kids believe or think, it’s based on what they observe among spectators, and at that age, the spectators are parents.”

She concluded that, “Coaches and parents create a climate that influences young athletes’ sport enjoyment and participation.  Unfortunately, sometimes the climate is toxic, rather than positive and nurturing, which can lead to burnout, dropout, competitive anxiety, loss of self-esteem, and poor sportsmanship.”

I enthusiastically support Professor LaVoi’s position regarding the role and impact of coaches and parents in youth sports.

In my view, improvements in coach education should include at least these two critical areas: 

1) It is imperative that improvements address the psycho-social aspects of coaching children. In its simplest form this means that coaches must recognize and understand how their words and  actions impact each player physically, emotionally and mentally and what it takes to have their impact in each of those areas be positive. Surveys show the primary reasons kids drop out of sports are

            • it is not fun

            • overzealous or abusive coaches

            • insufficient playing time

Whether a child has a positive or negative sports experience is in the hands of the coach.

2)—Youth coaches should be instructed on how to teach sports specific skills, fundamentals and techniques. “Coaching the coach” clinics, along with background checks, should be essential elements of every youth sports coach training certification program.  Too often coaches will spend the bulk of their time focusing on strategies, schemes or Xs and Os instead of devoting quality time on fun and creative drills to improve players’ skills. An intense desire to win fuels this attitude.         

To read more about the difference coaches and parents can make on the youth sports experience check out these three articles by Coach Jerry:


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