Why Empathy Is Essential For Sports Coaching Excellence

What Delights The Kids That You Coach?

boy running on pathway

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The other day I delivered a fundamental athletics session to 5 to 7-year-olds. There was lots of running, jumping and throwing in a fun, game-based environment.

After the session, I sat the kids down and asked them to nominate what they enjoyed about the session.

“Stacking the cones” was the response from one of the girls. “I liked when we had to help you clean up the cones and stack them into their colours.”

I smiled outwardly and inwardly. I love the way kids ground us.

I had delivered a really good, well-planned session. Lots of engagement, fun, laughter, novelty, and skills. And what had one of the kids liked best? Cleaning up.

I loved her answer. It gave me an insight into her world and made me reflect on my coaching.

Be alert to these moments and learn from them.

We can get carried away delivering what is important to us and what will look impressive to those watching. But do we consider what is most valued by the kids?

If we fail to consider our coaching from the kids’ point of view, we will fail as coaches.

We need to cognitively crouch down with the kids.

What Delights The Kids You Coach?

boy wears red tank top holding football ball

Photo by malcolm garret on Pexels.com

Do you understand what delights the kids who come to your sessions?

Or do you simply deliver what delights you? Or what you think may delight the parents?

The two may not be compatible.

Don’t get me wrong; coaching is not pandering to the kids. You need to deliver sessions that have a real purpose. Amongst everything, there has to be a strong element of developing the kids’ physical competence.

But can you do this in a way that delights them? This is one of the keys to great coaching.

When you are considering what to include in a session, ask this key question: Will this activity delight them? If the answer is no, it is likely to be ineffective. Dress it up or delete it.

Empathy Is Essential

Learn about what engages the kids you coach. What will they fondly remember about the session? What will bring them back?

You can’t assume. The only way to truly learn is to watch and ask.

If they like cleaning up and stacking cones, include it in your session. Be creative. Build an activity, game or challenge around it.

A couple of tips that can help you learn what the kids want:

  1. At the beginning of the session, ask the kids what they are looking forward to doing during the session. Don’t dismiss what they say. Be agile and adjust.
  2. After the session ask the kids what they most enjoyed about the session. Listen and learn.

You can also try asking:

  • What would you like to do more of during a session?
  • What would you like to see less of?
  • Is there something that we don’t do that you would like to see included?

Work hard to put yourself in the participants’ shoes.

If we fail to consider our coaching from the kids’ point of view, we will fail as coaches.

Empathy is essential for sports coaching excellence.

Over To You!

Find out what the kids like about your sessions.  Make a list and include the list in every session. I would love to hear how this works for you. Let me know by leaving a reply/comment or by using the contact details below.

Further reading

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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 coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, Anchor or via email.

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