Youth and Sports: What Does Love Have to Do With It?

By Dr. Jack Singer

By Jack Singer, Ph.D.
Certified Sport Psychologist

Youth and Sports by Sports Psychologist Dr. Jack SingerSo much anecdotal evidence exists today of the impact that coaches and the “climate” in which they teach their young charges have on the performance and development of these youngsters. We have all heard of coaches who coach by fear, intimidation and the threat to bench a player. Believe me, in my 33 years of practice as a Professional Sport Psychologist, I have seen the unbelievable damage that such coaching causes on the self-esteem and confidence of young athletes. It’s the rare coach who takes the time to understand each athlete and treat her/him with respect and concern for the greater goal, rather than for whether they win.

Now, there is a wonderful study of exactly what characteristics lead to the best outcomes for youngsters who engage in sporting activities. As reported in the latest issue of “Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology,” the purpose of the study was to examine if the influence of youngsters’ perceptions of a “caring climate” in a summer sport camp program would predict psychological well being of those youngsters throughout their sports camp experience.

The results were amazing! Youngsters who perceived that their counselors/coaches truly cared about them (that is, they felt valued, supported, and accepted, (as opposed to judged or criticized) were much happier and much more coachable. These youngsters maintained hope in the face of failure, and remained happy, rather than sad or depressed. “Results suggest that equipping adults with strategies to create a positive and caring climate can reap significant rewards for young people with regard to their overall physical and psychological development.”

This proves the adage that a “sandwich” approach to coaching youngsters works wonders: Find something good to say about his/her performance, then give feedback about how she/he can improve, and finish it off with something else that is positive. this is the essence of providing a positive and caring climate in which youngsters can learn their sport. And that’s the winning ticket!

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