Plans vs Demands: Surviving the Coaching Challenge

Balancing Long Term Plans With Short Term Demands When Coaching Young Athletes

How can coaches best keep everyone happy in the short term while also focusing on a long term development plan for an athlete?

It’s a fine balancing act.

I have recently been thinking a lot about the pressure that youth coaches face in balancing a long-term development plan that they have for an athlete with the short term expectations of the athlete – and their parents.

I am a big believer in long-term athlete development, but it does come with its challenges.

Although such an approach will eventually have many benefits for a young athlete – a longer athletic life, more consistent performances and fewer injuries – a long term athlete development plan will almost always see an individual experience more gradual progress than some others who are coached for short term success.  A coach must handle this situation with skill and sensitivity.

The key is to plan and work towards the long term without disregarding the importance of the short term.

Focusing solely on either the long term or the short term invites problems.

In fact, one of the biggest shortfalls of youth coaches is the tendency to focus exclusively on the shorter term. Many youth coaches look only towards shorter term results such as trying to win the next competition, game or championships, without any awareness or thought about the longer-term impact on the athlete. This attitude can be caused by things such as a lack of coaching experience, the coach’s ego or pressure from impatient and demanding parents.

If a youth coach focuses only on the short term without concern for the long term, the coach risks presiding over a program without direction. A short-term focus can result in a coach pushing athletes too hard, implementing inappropriate training content for the athlete’s stage of development and skipping important development phases.

On the other hand, if the coach has a long term plan but disregards the short term needs of athletes (and the athletes’ parents!) the coach will quickly lose support and not have the chance to see their long term plan through. A coach must have a long term view, but also must have strategies to keep athletes and parents happy and supportive as the plan builds and the intended results eventually emerge.

While working towards a long term vision, a coach needs to closely consider how they keep everyone happy from session to session,  week to week, and month to month.

Such short term considerations may include:

  • Cultivating athlete enjoyment of the training process.
  • Highlighting and celebrating small “victories” along the way.
  • Developing and maintaining athlete/parent belief in the coaching methods.
  • Sustaining the energy, enthusiasm and passion of the athletes and their parents.

I encourage all coaches to plan for and work towards the long term but never to lose focus on the importance of the short term.

What do you think coaches can do to balance the short term needs of athletes with the long term plan?

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 using the contact details below.

Further reading

Recommended Reading For Coaches: “Conditioning Young Athletes”

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 or via email.

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