Monthly Archives: October 2019

How To Create An Engaging Environment When Coaching Kids

How To Coach More Effectively By Engaging Your Athletes

Engaging kids

For kids to learn they must be paying attention.

Effective coaches can capture and hold the attention of kids.

Good coaches have a sense of what will make a child’s eyes widen and their ears prick up. They are proficient at designing activities that will cause the kids to lean in and lock on.

It sounds intimidating to learn, but it’s not magic.

Here is a checklist containing some of the main ingredients that will help you deliver engaging activities:

1. Novelty

Novelty captures attention. Use brand new activities or introduce new elements to familiar activities. Keep things fresh and surprising.

2. Challenge

Sufficient challenge holds attention. Good coaches are sensitive to their kids’ challenge thresholds. Too easy is boring; too hard is discouraging. Hit that “Goldilocks” just-right sweet spot, which can often be found at the edge of a person’s comfort zone.

3. Control

Kids invest in an activity that they have a say in. It’s crazy not to get input from the people you are there to serve – the kids. Allow them to choose, make decisions, solve puzzles and problems, create and direct. Set the scene and then get out of their way.

4. Purpose

Kids need a purpose to perform. The purpose of “getting better” is not tangible to kids. Games with results, challenges that involve success or failure, and activities supported by a story get the kids hooked.

5. Involvement

Good coaches find ways to keep kids physically and/or cognitively occupied. Limit lines and ditch the downtime.

Dreary drills don’t achieve most of the above. That is why most kids will sleepwalk through drills or find their own ways to spruce them up.

None of the above on their own are sufficient to ensure engagement. For example, an activity may be novel but will fail to engage the kids for long if it is not challenging, the kids get no autonomy, there is no real purpose to it and the kids have to line up for a turn. The more of the five featured ingredients that you can blend in the greater the likelihood that the kids will love it.

A Word About Enjoyment

We often hear that fun is one of the keys to getting kids engaged. This is true. Athletes need to enjoy an activity to be engaged by it. But fun is a vague term. What is fun and how do we deliver it? I say it is largely those things listed above.

Fun is not simply clowning around.

Fun and learning are not mutually exclusive. They are completely interwoven.

You don’t have to abandon effective skills coaching for fun. It’s not one or the other. The challenge is to interweave and combine them.

Engagement In Action

Look at this hurdles activity:

Hurdles Dot x2 Noodles

The activity aims to help kids learn how to use their hurdling lead and trail leg.

What you see are dots, pool noodles and hurdles (which by themselves look enticing!)

What I help the athletes see are small platforms rising high above a river of lava; alarmed barriers and beams of which the slightest touch will bring the guards running.

The kids are challenged to avoid falling into the “lava” by stepping on the “platforms” while avoiding the obstacles.

What they don’t know is that these challenge helps them to learn a hurdles lead and trail leg action – with very little direct technical instruction from the coach.

The kids are given a challenge to solve that is surrounded by an engaging, meaningful story. i.e. Novelty, challenge, control, purpose – and as long as there is no long lines – involvement. You can even ramp up the involvement of those waiting by arranging for them to tackle the challenge in pairs or teams – helping each other out with observations, suggestions, strategies and encouragement.

Now imagine the same activity without the dots and noodles, and without the story.


But this is how the “drill” is commonly presented to kids.

We can do better.


Kids are more likely to be engaged if at least several of the following are contained within an activity – the more the better.

  1. Novelty
  2. Challenge
  3. Control
  4. Purpose
  5. Involvement

Over To You!

Use the above list to help you plan your coaching sessions. I would love to hear how it goes. Also, can you suggest any other ingredients that are critical for athlete engagement. Let me know by leaving a comment/reply or by using the contact details below.

Further reading

Why Empathy Is Essential For Sports Coaching Excellence

How To Make Hurdles Really Fun For Kids

How To Make Sprint Drills Really Fun For Kids

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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.

20150614_154020-1Darren 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, Anchor or via email.

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