Get Out of the Kids’ Way on Game Day

How You Can See Extraordinary Results By Relinquishing Control on Competition Day

Step back, let them loose and get out of their way.

I have witnessed some extraordinary results using this approach with teams of teenage representative athletes on competition days.

The kids relish it, but it can be a hard sell to many adults, especially some of the parents. Many are not at all comfortable with relinquishing control. Some are so used to molly-coddling their child that they just can’t believe that their child can do it without them. Sadly, they have caused many of their children to believe the same thing.

Kids’ sport should be child-centred, not adult-centred.

Too many coaches and parents think that they need to be a central part of the “show” on game day. They have to be seen and heard; they need to be a part of the action. Ego, insecurity and a lack of trust in a child’s capabilities can all contribute to this problem.

Of course adults have a vital role in creating an environment that will allow a child to go out and do their thing on game day without reliance on parents or coaches. In the lead-up to a competition, away from the spotlight, there needs to be adults instilling the skills, confidence and belief in the child that they can manage themselves on competition day.

For more than 20 years I was involved in coaching/managing a representative youth track & field team to an annual national championships. The kids were all in the thirteen to fifteen years age range.

The yearly program involved two preparatory live-in camps of a couple of nights each and a three or four night trip away to the national championships. The team traveled and was accommodated together under the supervision of the team management.

For many of the kids it was their first experience of having to pack, prepare and compete without a parent or guardian keeping close watch.

Kids respond to responsibility.

I think that young people respond well when given responsibility. It sends a message that we trust them and think them capable. Trying to micro-manage young athletes sends the opposite message.

Therefore, on competition day, all of the team members were responsible for waking themselves up. It was not the job of the team management. If a team member didn’t have an alarm, they had to arrange for another team member to ensure that they were out of bed. Team members had to be able to pack their own bag. They were responsible for being at breakfast on time. We refused to chase them up. At the track, they had to know their competition timetable and their call room and warm-up times. They had to be able to conduct their own warm up. These are just some examples of the responsibilities that we passed onto the young athletes.

All of this was not just thrown on the kids at the last moment without notice as some kind of “sink or swim” test. It was communicated and practiced during the two team preparation camps prior to the national championships. The kids were in the groove of looking after themselves by the time it really counted.

Too many adults over-estimate their importance on game day.

The whole process was designed to show that the athletes were expected to be self-reliant and autonomous and that we had confidence that they could be so.

And guess what? The kids responded brilliantly. Many kids clearly felt liberated when we showed them that we believed that they were capable.

Too many adults over-estimate how important they are on game day. An adult’s role is to quietly guide and support. Otherwise, they should just let the kids play.

If you haven’t tried this approach, I encourage you to do so. It can be quite confronting at first, especially if you are used to always being the one in charge. But the kids just may surprise you with their capabilities and resourcefulness, and the results can be extraordinary.

Do you have examples of how to pass on responsibility to young athletes?

What is your experience with this issue as an athlete, coach or parent? What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked? Do you have any suggestions? Let me know your thoughts and ideas by leaving a reply/comment or by using the contact details below.

Further Reading


How to Empower Young Athletes

How to Get Buy-in From Young Athletes By Giving Them a Voice

How to Be an Awesome Sports Parent

6 Tips For Best Competition Preparation


My thoughts on empowering young athletes have been heavily influenced by the book Legacy – What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. Read my review of the book HERE.

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.

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