Take a moment to think back to when you first started coaching youth sports. About how long did it take for you to understand that the one-size-fits-all approach had its limitations?
Did you learn it in your first year – first season – first week? Perhaps it took five minutes for you to grasp the fact that different kids would necessitate different methods.
Even after this realization, it is still challenging to figure out what exactly a customized approach looks like.
How can you quickly discern what particular kids need, in order to help them grow as athletes? More than likely you will encounter a variety of learning styles, differing strengths, and varying motivations toward youth sports – all on one team.
Here are four child athlete types that will help you understand “why” kids behave differently. When you perceive the “why” you can have more accurate expectations and give each kid a better experience.
The competitor is probably the easiest to spot. She is all-business when it comes to practices and games.
The task at hand is to win.
A fierce competitiveness overshadows everything she does. The competitor inevitably will be the most natural leaders on the team. During the stress of a game she can become very bossy with teammates and become irritated with the mistakes of others – and of themselves.
However, she has a great ability to be decisive, focused, and determined. She will certainly elevate the expectations for the team.
Tips to Customize for Competitors
Competitors will appreciate a coach that approaches winning with the same sense of urgency as they do. With this athlete, you can always cut to the chase when you have something to say. She likes action and always looks at the facts rather than the fluff. Competitors tend to be task-focused and so they respond best to socializing and/or joking at the end of a game or practice – once the job is done.
Snapshot of a Competitor
- Seeks: Control
- Strengths: Leadership
- Fears: Loss of control
- Motivation: The win
The quiet nature of the thinker could lead you to believe – at first – that they are not paying attention. However, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, they are quite honed in on the details and routines of the game.
For them, it is all about the process.
These child athletes greatly value accuracy. They are the teammates that are encouraging others to stick to the plan and the rules. Typically, because so much thought goes into what they do and say, being wrong is something they hate.
They are not as inclined to respond to “Ra-Ra” speeches but rather value tried-and-true methods and practiced techniques. Changing the plan mid-stream is going to cause this athlete to falter a bit. However, if given time to process, he will follow instruction down to the last letter.
Tips to Customize for Thinkers
Be prepared with thinkers to have solid answers to well-thought-out questions. They have a need to understand the “why” and to believe in the course of action. For them, practice should start on time and should have some logical sense in the way it is run. It may be difficult for a thinker to get on board with a plan that seems risky or haphazard. They thrive on routine and good systems.
Snapshot of a Thinker
- Seeks: Accuracy
- Strengths: Routines
- Fears: Personal Criticism
- Motivation: The process
If your “Ra-Ra” speech was lost on the thinkers, it is eaten up by this child athlete type. The performer is all about the relationship and interactions – especially in how it relates to them.
This might be the kid on the team that makes everyone laugh or keeps the conversation going. Sometimes viewed as showing off, this athlete definitely can bring an element of fun to the team.
Their enthusiasm and persuasiveness are contagious.
Tips to Customize for Performers
Coaches that engage these athletes at a personal level will quickly become an ally. These kids do not like being ignored and respond well to recognition. Calling attention to something positive that they did, energizes them. Performers think more with their gut than their head and decisions are often spontaneous. They are not fans of routine or complex exercises. Being a part of “the show” is where they flourish.
Snapshot of a Performer
- Seeks: Acceptance
- Strengths: Enthusiasm
- Fears: Loss of status
- Motivation: The show
The Social Butterfly
This athlete loves it when everyone is happy and doing what is expected. In fact, being a part of a team, in harmony, is their sweet spot.
Generally, they show up to practice cheerful and sensitive to the feelings of everyone around them. They are steady and supportive of everyone’s efforts. More than likely they will befriend the kid that seems to be alone often.
Social butterflies definitely think more with their gut than their head and have a deep loyalty to their team.
Tips to Customize for Social Butterflies
Social butterflies blossom under coaches that have a friendly, personal approach. They like to know what is expected of them at all times and tend to be very compliant. If there is an issue that needs to be addressed these kids will handle it better one-on-one and in private. They hate to be embarrassed and avoid conflict at all costs.
Snapshot of a Social Butterfly
- Seeks acceptance
- Strengths: Teamwork
- Fears: Being singled out
- Motivation: The participation
The Privilege of Coaching
The ability to speak into a young athlete’s life is a unique privilege that coaches get to experience and hopefully enjoy. In this role, there is a small window of time where – if done correctly – it can have a long-lasting impact.
A youth sports coach that customizes his approach according to the athlete’s behavioral tendencies creates an environment that empowers everyone to perform at their best level, which inevitably optimizes the sport-experience for all those involved.