On Kids and Sports

a manifesto

Don’t: Use adult sports as models for organizing youth sports.

Do: Encourage children to play informal games, and facilitate informal games by providing children with time, safe spaces, and various indirect forms of guidance.

Don’t: Use coaches of elite adult teams as models for organizing your own coaching. Bela Karolyi and Bobby Knight may be heroes to many for their ability to keep young athletes totally dependent and dedicated, but they are not good models for how to socialize children when it comes to anything that I would call positive character development.

Do: Use child-oriented teaching methods grounded in the realization that children are not little adults, and should not be treated as such.

Don’t: Use an “Obedience Model” of coaching – based on:

  • Providing constant and pervasive supervision
  • Using established and non-negotiable rules for athletes on and off the field
  • The use of sanctions to produce compliance with rules
  • Encouraging athletes to look to authority figures for approval
  • Emphasizing the consequences of failure to obey and follow rules

Do: Use a “Responsibility Model” of coaching – based on:

  • Providing information for decision-making
  • Enabling athletes to develop individual and team rules for on and off field
  • Focusing on consequences of decisions and learning from mistakes
  • Encouraging athletes to be responsible for their decisions
  • Emphasizing an awareness of how decisions impact others and the overall context

Don’t: Make underage children sign contracts committing themselves to long-term goals. Remember, it takes informed consent to sign a contract, and children cannot give informed consent no matter how talented they are in a sport!

Do: Help children take control of their own lives so they will be able to set realistic goals when they are ready to do so.

Don’t: Use dominance over others as the measure of excellence.

Do: Use personal progress in the development of physical competence as an indicator of excellence. The goal should be to create achievement motivation, not the desire to feel compelled to beat others to feel good about self.

Don’t: Emphasize external rewards as a source of motivation.

Do: Emphasize internal rewards associated with participation and competence as a source of motivation. Many young people today have never developed a deep love for the sports they play apart from all the perks that come with them. Such love is grounded in joy combined with a sense of personal achievement.

© 2001 by Jay Coakley University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Sociology department

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