Positive development in youth sport

A coach of youth sport plays a much larger role in the positive development of a child than just teaching him or her the skills necessary for the sport.  An estimated 45 million children in the United States participate in an organized program or team making it the most popular structured activity (Mahoney, Larson, Eccles & Lord, 2005), and it is acknowledged as an ideal setting to promote positive youth development (Holt & Sehn, 2008).  According to Cronin & Allen (2015), sport has been found to be related to the following developmental or learning experiences in youth: social skills, teamwork, motivation, problem solving, decision making, goal setting, initiative, communication, and leadership.  Coaches play a critical role in the overall experience of the young athlete and research shows that there are several areas that coaches have the opportunity to increase the likelihood of positive youth development.

The first area is to create a mastery-oriented motivational climate compared to a performance-oriented motivational climate.  A mastery-oriented climate has a focus towards the athletes developing new skills and improving their competence (Prichard & Deutsch, 2015) whereas a performance orientation focuses on the individual’s ability with a focus on outperforming others (Dweck, 1986).

To create a mastery-oriented environment, a coach could do the following:

  • Give the athletes tasks that are challenging which they perceive as meaningful
  • Recognize athletes for their achievements in private as well as provide praise for their improvement and effort rather than public recognition which fuels a performance orientation
  • Have flexibility and allow their athletes ample time to practice and complete a task.

Any evaluations given to a child should be focused on the child giving full effort or improvements in their personal performance.  Comparing one child to another, scores or other’s accomplishments will change the focus to performance goals.  The following benefits have been reported by children who experienced a mastery motivational climate: greater enjoyment, reduced anxiety levels, increased perceptions of efficacy and fulfilling social interactions (Prichard & Deutsch, 2015).

Another area that coaches can create positive youth development is in providing autonomy support.  Autonomy support is the coach’s willingness to provide the rationale behind specific tasks, acknowledging an athlete’s feelings, allowing athletes to take initiative as well as the ability to work independently (Cronin & Allen, 2015).  According to Ryan & Deci (2001), autonomy support is part of self-determination theory and suggests that it “leads to the satisfaction of the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness; which in turn, leads to optimal development and well-being (p.63)”.

Other opportunities for positive development include coaches placing an emphasis on the development of personal and social skills (Cronin & Allen, 2015). This can be by creating groups of athletes to be responsible for maintaining equipment as well as encouraging off-field social interactions such as team building events.

Youth sport coaches have a strong effect on a child’s overall experience in sport through the motivational climate they create, the values they portray and how they treat the athletes on their team. They also can affect how a child defines success which can dictate the level of enjoyment and satisfaction the child receives from participating (Christianson, Breker, & Deutsch, 2012).



Christianson, N., Breker, M., & Deutsch, J. (2012). How to run a soccer camp: For adolescents (age 6-14). Journal of Youth Sports, 7(1), 13-18

Cronin, L. D., & Allen, J. B. (2015). Developmental Experiences and Well-Being in Sport: The Importance of the Coaching Climate. The Sport Psychologist TSP, 29(1), 62-71. doi:10.1123/tsp.2014-0045

Dweck, C. S. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American Psychologist, 41(10), 1040-1048. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.41.10.1040

Holt, N.L., & Sehn, Z.L. (2008). Processes associated with positive youth development and participation in competitive youth sport. In N.L. Holt (Ed.), Positive youth development through sport (pp. 24-33). New York, NY: Routledge

Mahoney, J., Larson, R., Eccles, J., & Lord, H. (2005). Organized activities as developmental contexts for children and adolescents. Organized as Contexts of Development, 3-22.

Prichard, A., & Deutsch, J. (2015). The Effects of Motivational Climate on Youth Sport Participants. The Physical Educator TPE. doi:10.18666/tpe-2015-v72-i5-6999

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.55.1.68

By |2018-09-30T11:31:13+00:00July 2nd, 2015|Coaching, Youth Sport|0 Comments

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