Coaching Kids: Expectations Versus Reality

10 Common Misconceptions About Coaching Kids

I don’t write this to scare you; I write this to prepare you.

A coaching session with kids often doesn’t pan out the way that you expect. It’s not always smooth sailing.

Many enter the world of coaching kids expecting that things will be neat and orderly; that well-planned sessions will progress in an orderly fashion. In reality, coaching kids is often messy and chaotic. Things usually don’t just fall into place. Surprises and the unexpected will happen. It’s a harder gig than many anticipate.

Accepting and being prepared for this reality is one of the keys to not just surviving, but thriving as a coach of young athletes.

Here are some 10 common expectations (or better still – misconceptions) about coaching kids.

Expectation 1: Your Session Will Follow Your Plan

The Reality

A session plan is important. But be prepared to deviate from it. Sometimes you will have to, and sometimes it is best to. Don’t just doggedly stick to what you wrote. Ploughing ahead when the kids just aren’t responding positively to an activity needs a swift repair and refocus. Alternatively, if an activity is going well, capitalise on it and extend upon it. You may have issues such as weather conditions or interruptions that you need to work around, or simply a suggestion or an idea that arises mid-session that is worth exploring.


Expect the unexpected and be prepared to roll with it. It’s ok to be spontaneous.

When reviewing your session, on your original lesson plan, mark the changes that you made during the session as a record of what worked and what needed changing. It will be useful to look back on in the future.

Expectation 2: Kids Will Automatically Be Enthusiastic And Cooperative

The Reality

You will need to work hard to proactively and positively manage the kids’ behaviour. You will encounter various levels of interest and motivation. You will face tired kids, hungry kids, emotional kids, overly excited kids, and kids who are craving attention.


Make your session content, and also your delivery of the content, fun and engaging. Aim to win your group over in the first five minutes of a session. It is also worth having some behaviour management strategies loaded up and ready to go if needed.

Expectation 3: Kids Will Listen To You Because You Are The Coach

The Reality

Kids get bored and distracted easily. A blazing sun in their eyes, other activities in the background, other kids, and even a passing butterfly can draw attention away from where you would like their focus to be.


As a coach of kids, you need to consider yourself as being in the children’s entertainment industry. Plan how you are going to gain and maintain the kids’ attention because it is unlikely to automatically occur.

For example, remember to:

  • Keep distractions out of the kids’ field of vision
  • Sit the kids down to prevent them from wandering and fidgeting
  • Keep your verbal instructions simple and brief.

Expectation 4: Kids Will Organise Themselves Quickly

The Reality

Unless they have been well-taught and are used to a routine, kids are generally poor at organising themselves as a group into any type of formation. Whether this is in lines, in a circle, finding a partner or getting into a small group, it often requires a great deal of direction and assistance.


Have some plans in place as to how you can quickly and efficiently organise the kids into the formation you require. Otherwise, your learning session will be spent getting ready to start activities rather than actually doing the activities.

You might like to try using:

  • Countdowns e.g. “When I say ‘GO’, by the time I count to ‘THREE’ I want you to find a partner. Ready? Go! 1…2…3!”
  • Colours, not numbers when grouping kids. When requiring kids to be in groups, it is far easier to give the kids a colour and send them to that colour, than giving them a number and asking them to remember that.
  • Fun competitions where the kids score points for their team for being organised quickly.
  • Formation games where the game results in the kids being in the required formation. E.g. “Jog about the playing area. When I blow my whistle and call out a number, you need to get into a group with that many people in it as quickly as possible”.

Expectation 5: Kids Will Understand Your Instructions

The Reality

You will often need to repeat, re-phrase and reconsider your instructions. Sometimes when you think that you have given a thorough or simple verbal instruction, it is clear from the result that you have not. Frequently, some kids will get it, and some will not.


Don’t blame the kids for not understanding you. Take on the responsibility of ensuring everyone understands what you would like them to do. Visual demonstrations and walk-throughs are well worth considering. While seemingly soaking up valuable session time, they are more likely to ultimately save you time later on.

Expectation 6: All Of Your Coaching Cues Will Instantly Work

The Reality

Sometimes they will; sometimes they won’t. For a coaching cue to be effective, the audience needs to be able to relate to it. And the younger the kids, the fewer things they can relate to. Plus, all kids are not the same. They will come to you with a variety of life experiences and levels of vocabulary. A coaching cue may work well with one child and flop with another child.


Again, don’t blame the kids. It’s up to you to find what works for each child. Be prepared to rummage, search, sift through and create coaching cues until one connects and clicks. Aim to construct a huge catalogue of cues that is never complete.

Expectation 7: The Kids Will All Be Of A Similar Skill Level

The Reality

The larger the group, the more levels of capability you are likely to encounter. Some kids will pick things up quickly and might become bored. Some will struggle and might become frustrated or dispirited.


Consider if you can build “choice of challenge” into your sessions. Think of it like indoor rock climbing where participants may be able to choose from a variety of colour-coded difficulty levels.

Expectation 8: The Kids Will Respond Predictably

The Reality

Don’t be surprised if your favourite part of the session is different to what the kids end up nominating. Or if what looked good on paper doesn’t work in reality because the kids are just not into it like you thought that they would be.


After a session, always ask the kids what they most enjoyed. Give everyone a chance to speak. Take note and learn, and put it into practice the next time that you coach.

Expectation 9: The Kids’ Priorities Will Match Yours

The Reality

Young kids are rarely doing a sport for the reason that adults assume or think that they should be. Performance and results are often not at the top, or even on their list.


Some adults don’t understand why the kids are not focusing or “putting in” during practice – and why they “just don’t get it”. It’s actually the adults who don’t get it.

Effective coaches of kids are tuned into the kids’ needs and priorities. Learn why the kids are there and ensure that your coaching reflects this.

Expectation 10: Kids Will Immediately And Noticeably Improve Their Performance As A Result Of Your Coaching

The Reality

Don’t be disappointed if your coaching impact is not immediately observable via increases in performance or results. Coaches are not magicians.


Be patient, encouraging, and understanding.

Measure your coaching success by more than just competitive performance improvement and results.

Also, be encouraged that even though you may not notice tangible improvements, kids are often laying the foundations for, and building towards, a breakthrough.

Over to You!

Have you experienced any of the above? Do you have any to add to the list? Let me know by leaving a comment/reply or by using the contact details below.

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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2 thoughts on “Coaching Kids: Expectations Versus Reality

  1. Steve Barford says:

    Wow..everything from the above is so true..
    I myself competed for 16 years as a multi-eventer then with having a family and work had to leave ‘ 15 years later I returned as a assistant coach (not officially trained) due to covid .So I’ve been at my club for 2 years and realised Im still in love with Athletics .I do try to read as much as I can on coaching techniques and at the moment throwers events ,And reading this today put a smile on my face .
    You do have many young athletes and they are all different in many ways ‘one thing ive learnt is to ask the kids to watch others while training and be a coach themselves and see what they think was right or wrong with other kids when throwing .
    Great information many thanks.


    • Thanks Steve. It’s fantastic that you have returned to the sport and appear to be loving it. That’s a great idea getting the kids to watch and “coach”. It keeps them engaged and helps them learn. I’m really glad the article resonated with you. Darren


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