Coaches who over-correct or pick apart kids’ technique and criticize their players can undermine kids’ confidence and cause them to perform poorly and lose their enjoyment for the game.
Coaches often get in the habit of pointing out only mistakes in their play or technique. They might say, “You forgot to run back on defense,” or “Why didn’t you make that easy shot?” or “Stop throwing three-pointers. You’re not making them.” Young athletes look up to their coaches and want to please them. When coaches are critical, it hurts kids’ confidence and makes them perform tentatively. In fact, when coaches push young athletes too hard, yell at them or criticize them, the kids are more likely to drop out of sports.
Kids who are constantly corrected by their coaches lose the joy and freedom that helps them play well. When they’re criticized, they often over-think their game. They’re afraid of making mistakes or doing things that will make their coach give negative feedback.
In addition, criticism tends to prompt kids to pull away or get angry, instead of trying to initiate constructive communication with the coach. They don’t want to hear negative things about their performance constantly.
Coaches should point out mistakes and how to correct them, but should also reward successes and focus on the larger picture — that young kids are playing sports to have fun and learn valuable life lessons.
Coaches should always find something positive to say about young athletes’ performance. For example, “You pushed yourself really hard, you should be proud,” or, “I think you trapped the ball really well today.” In fact, the Positive Coaching Alliance says that young athletes do best when coaches offer a “specific, truthful praise” five times for every one time they offer constructive criticism.
It’s important for coaches and parents to understand that mistakes are inevitable. There’s no such thing as a perfect performance. Kids are human too and they will learn from their mistakes.
When coaches criticize players, in some cases they’re trying to motivate them to change their behavior. Pointing out flaws is not the best way to do this. Instead, coaches should reinforce the behavior they want young athletes to exhibit. If a child is a good team player, for example, the coach should reinforce that behavior. This boosts kids’ confidence and success. Parents should make sure that coaches are communicating positively with their kids. If a child seems frustrated and negative after practice, or mentions dreading practice and games, parents may need to meet with the coach to discuss possible solutions.