Communicating Effectively with Young Athletes

Coaches give a great deal of time and energy to providing a worthwhile life experience for young athletes. To optimize coaching effectiveness, coaches must be aware of the importance of skillful communication in achieving their objectives.

Everything we do communicates something to others. Because of this, coaches should develop the habit of asking themselves (and, at times, their athletes) how their actions are being interpreted. This enables coaches to evaluate whether they are communicating what they intend to.

Coaches must constantly ask themselves what has been communicated to athletes and whether the communication was effective.

Effective communication is a two-way street.

  • By keeping the lines of interaction open, coaches can be more aware of opportunities to have a positive impact on athletes.

  • Fostering two-way communication does not mean that athletes are free to be disrespectful toward their coach.

  • Rather, it invites athletes to express their views (both positive and negative) with the assurance that they will be heard by the coach.

  • Furthermore, by presenting a model of an attentive listener, coaches can hope to improve the listening skills of their athletes.

Effective communication also requires that coaches view a team as a group of individuals and respond to these individuals accordingly. For example, a youngster who has low self-confidence may be crushed (or positively affected) by something that has no impact whatever on an athlete with high self-esteem. By improving sensitivity to the needs of athletes, coaches can be more successful. The ability to “read” athletes and respond to their individual needs is characteristic of high-quality coaches at all levels of sport.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., and Ronald E. Smith, Ph.D., for this article. Drs. Smoll and Smith are sport psychologists at the University of Washington and co-directors of Youth Enrichment in Sports. To see previews of their Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports DVDs, visit
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