Ways to Instill Good Sports Habits in Young Athletes
The time spent playing youth sports is such an important and formative time in a young athlete’s life. From the experiences and friendships to the lessons learned, a child can benefit greatly from playing youth sports.
It is often forgotten that these players are just kids and are experiencing a lot of new things in each season that passes! They are trying to learn, develop and figure out who they are, all while having fun playing a sport they enjoy. While winning is fun, instilling good sports habits, such as sportsmanship, self-confidence, teamwork, and time management is the main goal of youth sports.
Each practice or game presents an opportunity for coaches to connect with young athletes. Taking the time to instill good sports habits in young athletes will help shape them into confident, friendly, and strong players for a lifetime.
1. Communicate Effectively
A simple conversation with your athletes can go a long way. Create an open-door policy, encouraging athletes to come to you and discuss topics such as injuries, team conflicts, or tough plays. Ensure you are taking the time to actively listen to their problem and ask any follow-up questions before offering a solution.
If you notice one of your athletes seems down on their confidence during practice one day, offer a mental check-in. If you notice some hostility between a couple of players during a game, make a conscious effort to discuss the issue at hand right away to effectively resolve the conflict.
2. Prioritize Accountability
Holding athletes accountable teaches them that there are consequences for their actions. Most commonly, we see this practiced in time management within youth sports. With proper communication of expectations, coaches can educate athletes on how important it is to be accountable to themselves and their teammates by showing up on time.
Some other ideas to prioritize accountability would be to rotate water bottle responsibilities, change who leads stretches, or assign someone to come up with a new pre-game song. Be sure to praise when needed, and show players that you are seeing the work that they are putting in.
3. Give Your Athletes Control
For instance, giving your athletes control over warm-ups before practice will teach them leadership, confidence, and the importance of teamwork. By allowing athletes to step into a leadership role, some will rise and thrive in this environment, while others will simply learn from the experience they were given. Allowing young athletes to work as a team encourages collaboration, decision-making, conflict management, and time management.
Other suggestions would be allowing your athletes to choose where to go for a team meal or strategizing with a pregame routine for the team to follow for the whole season. When athletes are given autonomy to make team decisions, no matter how minor, this translates into improved self-confidence.
4. Practice What You Teach
Young athletes are always watching and observing how people act and behave around them. Have you ever heard a kid use an old expression perfectly in a sentence? They didn’t learn that on Snapchat or TikTok, they likely heard it from observing and copying the actions of the adults around them! With this in mind, focus on practicing the actions you ask of your athletes and stick to them throughout the season. Be on time, well prepared, a good role model, and treat everyone around you respectfully.
5. Incorporate Team-Building Activities
Young athletes will enjoy playing their favourite sport even more if practices are made fun. Although there is a time for serious competition in every season, take the opportunity to introduce team-building activities into practice; there is a good chance that teamwork and sportsmanship will increase when young players are encouraged to work together and communicate.
For example, a team-building activity could be a tug-of-war. While this activity isn’t related to advancing your athletes’ skillset (aside from building strength), it encourages your athletes to strategize a game plan and work together.
Instilling good sports habits in young athletes will set them up for future success, wherever their sports journey may take them.
FAQ — Instilling Good Habits in Young Athletes
• Time management
• Hold your athletes accountable
• Give your athletes control to make small team decisions
• Lead by example, modelling good behaviors you want athletes to pick up on
• Add team-building activities into practices to help your athletes bond
Additionally, a huge part of sports is the team aspect. Young athletes much learn how to communicate and problem solve to win. The team aspect of sports teaches young athletes both sportsmanship and teamwork.
If an athlete learns self-confidence on the court, ice, or field, they will likely also embody a greater level of confidence at school, home, or even work.