3 Laws to Master Coaching Youth Athletes

A few days ago I received an email from a CSP intern. In this email they explained three goals they wanted to achieve by the end of their internship.  Their first goal was as follows.

I want to learn more about communicating well with people with a young training age. I feel I can convey my message with clients who have been lifting for a while but with beginner lifters sometimes I feel lost and confused how to get my message across and have the client understand me.
— CSP Intern

From my own personal experience working with youth athletes has turned out to be some of the most memorable and rewarding experiences. On the other hand I find that some strength coaches struggle when trying to coach and carry conversations with these little nuggets. Here are my three laws to master communication with youth athletes. 

1)    Remember Names

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I place great value on truly connecting with people of all ages. I know one of the simplest ways to make someone feel good is to remember and speak their name. It is even more effective if you can get the people surrounding them to remember and speak their names as well along with one or two personal fun facts.

Example(s):

Who is your favorite super hero?

What is one thing you’re really good at?

During CSP Foundations (a group class geared towards 8-11year olds) I always start off the class with variations of name games to ensure everyone in the class knows each and every person for two primary reasons. One, it promotes a sense of community and safety and two, it creates positive habits for when they get older.

2)    Talk Less, Demonstrate More

When it comes to coaching, regardless of the person’s training age, always start off by just demonstrating the exercise. Kids are especially good at mirroring not only your body language and attitude but movement patterns as well. Another essential point is when you do have to give direct cues to kids make sure they are funny, memorable, or tell a story. 

Example: Coaching the Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift to a little nugget who loves Woody from Toy Story

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Me: Step 1: [say in a deep cowboy accent] You are going to hover over this here KB like you’re getting ready to go into a shootoff- stance set

Me: Step 2: Your arms represent your guns ** remember you never point your weapons of destruction at anyone** These guys (arms) are going to travel down the inside of your legs until they touch that KB.  -  long arms/lats tight

Me: Step 3: The final step to being the greatest cowboy sumo deadlifter is everyone in this room must be able to see your Sherriff Star at all time. If you point your sheriff star to the ground no one will know who you are. – Chest remains tall

Me: You think you got this partner?

Little Nugget:  Shootoff, weapons point down, Sheriff Star, I got this!

Me: Awesome!

Remember, creating context is the most important thing you can do as a coach. If you know their background and what they enjoy, you can think of creative cues that kids will understand.

3)    Simplistic Training

Training age dictates the means and the minimal effective dose. Since kids have an extremely low training age you don’t have to throw every exercise variation in their face. Commonly kids will actually get stronger and gain confidence by sticking to a very small exercise library (6-10 exercises). When working with kids, my three primary goals are:

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1.     Master quality movement patterns (hinge, squat, bridges, push, pulls,). Building a large foundation at a younger age will result to greater success down the road.

2.     Beginners need to learn how to grind: Kids need to learn how to create force and work hard. Let them pull ropes, carry heavy Med balls, push the prowler but be sure to make these fun.

3.     Be a team player: Nothing is more rewarding than having a class of kids who respect each other and know how to work together as a team. At the end of class, play a game that challenges sportsmanship, leadership and teamwork. I love performing relays, blindfold challenges where kids will have to guide their partner around small obstacles or even a traditional game of wall ball.

Working with youth athletes is one the most rewarding experiences a coach can have. By taking  the time to learn names, be creative, and simplify training we can streamline the learning process and future success for these little nuggets.