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Five tips for coaches to bring a Balance is Better philosophy into their coaching

Sport NZ’s Balance is Better philosophy is centred on ensuring all young people, regardless of their ability, have a quality experience playing sport. We want young people to stay in sport and realise their potential, not be turned off before they get the chance. An important enabler of this are kiwi coaches. So, with the start of another sport season now upon us, here are some tips for coaches on bringing the Balance is Better philosophy to life in the work you do with your youth team.

#1 Prioritise the love for sport over learning the sport 

A small proportion of young people will aspire to be elite athletes. An even smaller number will become one. All young people have the potential to love sport and remain physically active for life. Creating healthy and active adults who love and remain in sport is a coaching legacy worth striving for. 

So, what does this look like? 

Coaches who prioritise the love for sport and physical activity ask themselves – “what am I doing to make sure the young people I coach want to come back for more?”. Key to this is making sure your coaching sessions are: 

  • Fun 
  • Social 
  • Novel and varied  

In any given coaching session, you will likely have some form of coaching objective/s. Consider, if one, two, or three of the above were a coaching objective, what might this practically look like in your coaching session?

#2 Look beyond the scoreboard to measure success 

Yes, a core part of a coach’s role is supporting athletic development and striving to win. However, great coaches also have a holistic approach to supporting youth development and believe in positively impacting young people more broadly in areas such as family, schooling and character development. 

So, what does this look like? 

Coaches who look at more than the scoreboard might define success as: 

  • My athletes progress against development goals set at the start of the season.
  • My athletes display great sportsmanship.
  • My athletes can learn lessons from sport that they can then apply to other areas of their life (e.g. teamwork, dealing with adversity, etc) 
  • My athletes are happy and want to keep playing sport.

#Coach for all young people - understand that one size does not fitall 

Great coaches are inclusive and know how to cater for all levels of abilities, motivations and aspirations. Great coaches are versatile in their approach so that their actions best meet the needs of the young people they coach. This starts with getting to know young people, their families and the community they belong to. 

So, what does this look like? 

Great coaches know that applying a one size fits all approach often neglects or doesn’t work for many of the young people they coach. This means they: 

  • Don’t just focus on the most talented athletes. 
  • When necessary, adjust their coaching style and approach (e.g. how they communicate feedback) based on the individual. 
  • Take a constraints-based approach to work with groups of young people with mixed ability at the same time. To do this, great coaches will provide different rules for different individuals in a training session, so that a session’s objective is easier for some and harder for others.
  • Design sessions and activities that promote a learning environment focussed on building young people’s confidence, competence, connection and character (the 4Cs)

#4 Value competition and know how to use it in a developmentally appropriate way

There is nothing wrong with competition. Great coaches ensure the format and atmosphere of competition are built around the developmental stage of young people and appropriate for their needs. These coaches facilitate quality competition experiences to support growth and development. At the same time, great coaches know where the line lies between quality competition and competition experiences that are detrimental for development and ultimately might turn young people off sport. 

So, what does this look like? 

 When it comes to using competition well, great coaches: 

  • Avoid replicating the adult-version of competition for tamariki and young rangatahi, and only introduce it when its developmentally appropriate.
  • Understand how competition incentivises and influences different behaviours around.
  • Selection.
  • Strategy, such as positioning and game-time. 
  • Parent behaviours. 

Ultimately, great youth coaches will continue to ask themselves “is the will to win getting in the way of providing great developmental experiences and supporting the young people I coach to learn to love the sport?” 

#Work with parents positively 

Great coaches view parents as part of the team. As oppose to being a hindrance, great coaches know how to turn parents into the biggest resource at their disposal. Great coaches know that parents want the best for their kids. They know how to partner effectively with parents to support young people.

So, what does this look like? 

You won’t know what the parents of the young people you coach can offer until talk to them. Ways in which great coaches connect with parents include: 

  • Pre-season meetings, where you outline your coaching philosophy, approach and vision for the season. This could be 30 minutes before a training or a game. 
  • Texts and emails throughout the season with athlete-updates – try make a goal to send a text or email to each parent at least once during the season providing an authentic update about their child – what they excelling at and what have they developed or progressed in? 
  • Share articles and message from Balance is Better – help parents with their own youth sport learning journey. 

In summary 

The start of the sports season is a great time to think about how you coach, what your goals are for the season and how you can develop your skills to do even more for the young people you support. We believe following the tips outlined above will help foster a great sport environment for the young people you work with. If you are interested in progressing your coaching journey, we would encourage you to sign-up to Balance is Better. 

And if you have any other coaching tips, we’d love to hear from you. 

Read more: 

The power of moments in youth sport 

The key characteristics of the world’s best coaches 

Image Credits: Hockey New Zealand

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