Many young athletes experience trouble reading social cues from coaches and peers, says Caroline Maguire, author of “Why Will No One Play with Me?” and a professional certified coach who has worked with Olympic and other athletes.
This can hurt communication with coaches and peers, make it difficult for kids to be good team members and undermine kids’ sports experience. Some young athletes, even when they’re very talented, can be “out of step” with the coach and the rest of the team.
“I have worked with many talented athletes who were out of step with their team,” she said. They might loudly speak their minds in a way that puts others off. Or they might not listen well.
In an interview for our Ultimate Sports Parent Radio podcast, she said that teaching kids how to do “social sleuthing” can help them learn how to pick up on social cues and get in step with the coach and team.
“Being on a team there are certain expectations, unspoken and spoken rules kids have to follow,” she said. To help players better understand these rules, she teaches them to covertly watch other teammates and see how they talk to coaches and other players. This helps them figure out the norms and the team’s “vibe,” she said.
“If you’re not sure what the norms or cues are, you watch other people and spy on them, notice and observe,” she explained. This involves paying attention to others’ tone and body language, she said.
Sometimes athletes are rude or get angry easily. Or they’re so passionate about the game that they try to take over and boss everyone around.
Maguire helps these athletes step into the shoes of the coach or others. “I teach them to read cues so the coach is not annoyed,” she said. This training also helps them in other areas of their lives.
The bottom line: Young athletes need to learn to cooperate and get along with others. Sometimes they need a little help getting there.
“So much of life is cooperating and reading the room. The idea is to give kids tools so they can play well with others,” Maguire said.
Learn more about helping your athlete deal with social issues by listening to our interview with Maguire.