Q: Is it appropriate to skate kids for not listening?
A: Coaches need to have age-appropriate expectations for the kids with which they work. Understanding a little bit about child development, and that young kids have a child-centered approach, is critical to the success of a coach. “Success” at this age shouldn’t be defined by wins or losses. Kids participate in practice and games to play hockey and hang out with their friends. Their youth sport experience belongs to them, not the adults running the practices or managing the bench. A coach's role is to lead, teach, motivate and encourage these young and vulnerable players.
Players younger than 12 years old are often not cognitively and psychologically ready to practice and compete in an adult-based environment. What kids want out of sport is often very different than what adults think they want. Kids favor fun and inclusion over winning and competition. A 2014 study by researchers at George Washington University reported 9 of 10 kids said "fun" is the main reason they participate. When asked to define “fun,” they offered up 81 reasons- and ranked "winning" at number 48:
Coaches shouldn’t use punishment as a motivator or as a method to keep young players’ attention. Making kids do sprints, push-ups or embarrassing them by singling out in front of their friends is counter-productive. If kids are goofing off or not understanding the method of coaching delivery or motivation, the coach might instead examine their coaching style and philosophy. Here are some simple suggestions that will help youth hockey coaches have a successful and fun season:
Sport has the opportunity to teach young kids competitive skills, goal-setting skills and sportsmanship while providing a healthy and positive social atmosphere. Please maintain realistic expectations for young athletes by encouraging an age-appropriate developmental coaching philosophy versus a competition- and adult-centered philosophy. A successful coach is one who provides age-appropriate programming while motivating, inspiring and teaching these young athletes the sport of hockey.
The author, Michele Amidon, was a four-year letter-winner at St. Lawrence University and an ECAC MVP. Later, as a coach, she guided Bowdoin to a pair of national tournaments en route to being named NCAA Division III Women’s Hockey Coach of the Year.
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