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Skills for Coaches: Praise and Compliment Young Athletes

November 2nd, 2016     By Kevin Kush, Boys Town Football Coach and Teacher

Sports, Youth Sports

This article was originally featured on Momaha on August 29th, 2016.

Many activities compete for kids’ attention today. Youngsters have lots of options for how to spend their free time – the internet, video and computer games, TV, movies. In a real way, sports are competing for kids’ time and attention.

So if we want girls and boys to benefit from all youth sports has to offer, we have to make it appealing. When youth coaches focus on the positives and spend a majority of their time praising, complimenting and encouraging young people, practices and games are more enjoyable, pleasant and fun for kids and adults.

Before coming to Boys Town, I expected kids to do things the right way and I spent most of my time telling players and students what they were doing wrong. Today, thanks to what I’ve learned and experienced at Boys Town, I’ve switched gears; now I focus on praising, complimenting and encouraging young people. They respond much better to a positive approach, and everything about playing the game is just more enjoyable for everyone.

The reality is that kids who play youth sports will make lots of mistakes, so there will be lots to correct. That’s okay – it’s all part of the learning process. But to make your coaching truly effective you have to praise, compliment, and encourage.

“Catch them being good.”

Our motto at Boys Town is “ Catch ’em being good!” It means looking for and praising positive behaviors. It doesn’t mean you ignore negative behavior; it’s just a matter of finding a balance between correction and praise.

The key here is to always pay attention to the positive things young people do, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. A lot of coaches praise only the major accomplishments like scoring a touchdown, hitting a home run, or winning a race. But good little things are going to occur much more often and deserve your praise.

Praise your players for:

• Behaving properly

• Using skills correctly

• Taking the right action

• Making good decisions

After you praise them, reward them for it! This will motivate them to keep up their good work. Praise, reinforcement and positive consequences are keys to helping kids learn to how to choose the best course of action. Be on the lookout opens up lots of opportunities to praise, compliment, and encourage players during practices and games. Here are two examples:

• When a youngster follows your instruction to pick up the volleyballs, you can say something like, “Nice job! Thanks for picking up the volleyballs right when I asked you.”

 • Or, when players arrive on time to a baseball game with all their equipment, you could say, “Way to go guys! You all have your gloves and bats and you’re here in plenty of time to warm up. Let’s go have some fun!”

Praise three times for every correction or criticism.

At Boys Town, we follow the “3-to-1 rule” with our players. This means that for every negative consequence or correction a player earns for inappropriate behavior, we look for at least three opportunities to praise and reinforce positive behavior. For example, a youth baseball coach might tell a player who strikes out most of the time: “Great job of swinging only at strikes (praise)! You fouled off a couple of good pitches and got it to a full count (praise). I liked the way you remembered to use the stance we’ve been working on (praise), and you swung on time (praise). Next time, be sure to watch the ball as it comes across the plate (correction). You’ll get ‘em next time (encouragement)!”

The biggest advantage of using the 3-to-1 rule in a youth sports setting is that it forces you to focus on the positive and remain encouraging. This helps create an upbeat atmosphere that’s enjoyable and fun for you and the players. Also, the players and parents tend to catch on and become more supportive and encouraging toward you and each other.

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