Thursday, June 24, 2010


As parents and coaches, what expectations do we put on our children? How do our expectations affect our children? It’s been my experience that one of the major causes of dropout in youth sports is children not believing they can live up to the expectations of the adults they are trying to please. But, as anyone who’s spent time educating children will tell you, kids have an uncanny ability to perform to high expectations. So, where does that leave coaches, parents and educators? How do we use high expectations to best serve the children we are coaching without stepping over the line to a point where the kids feel our expectations are beyond their ability?

Try remembering this saying and the L.I.K.E. acronym:

In order to teach a child, we must L.I.K.E. the child.

Listen to the Child

Inform the Child

Know the Child

Evaluate the Child

If we can do these four things, we will have the knowledge we need to keep our expectations at a level that motivates our kids without causing the hopeless or incompetent feelings that come with over-expectations.

LISTEN to the child. Find out what they want to get out of an experience. All children, no matter how young, have some idea of what they want in a particular situation. Listen to what they say and also pay attention to what their body language says. Remember, a smile says a lot without making a sound. If what you’re teaching is getting smiles, you’re probably on the right path. Encourage open communication. Your athletes should be able to come to you and say “I’m not comfortable with that” knowing they will get a supportive reply from you.

INFORM the child. Coaches are guides. Athletes come to us with goals in mind and want us to guide them in a way that will help them accomplish those goals. Informed athletes set more appropriate goals. Since we are the experts, we will provide most of the information our students need to help them determine where they want their sports experience to take them. We should give information freely, while being cautious not to impose our goals and expectations on the athlete.

KNOW the child. The more you get to know a child, the more easily you will be able to read their emotional states and be able to interpret their posture and body language into information that will help you guide them to success. Pay attention to your athletes before and after practices and competitions. Get a feel for their personality so that you can pick up on cues that something is not normal. If coaches or parents are over-expecting of a child, you may sense that in how the athlete trains, their energy level during practice, their posture, or their positive vs. negative attitude. Try to envision your expectations from the child’s perspective. A quote floats around in my head that goes something like this “there is no reality, only perception.” I’m not sure what famous person said it, maybe Dr. Phil. But, the point is that each person’s perception is their reality. Two people will see the same situation differently and each will accept their version as what’s real. While coaching Suzy and Sally, who are at similar ability levels, you may tell them you’d like to see them do cartwheels with straight arms and legs. Suzy may think “wow, I have a coach who wants me to improve my cartwheel and is telling me how.” At the same time, Sally may be thinking “Is he crazy! Straight arms AND straight legs. I don’t think so.”

EVALUATE the child. To keep our expectations at a healthy level, we must have a clearly defined evaluation system. Education is always progressive. With a consistent evaluation system a teacher or coach will be tuned in to the students progress, and therefore, be able to establish expectations that are challenging and in line with what the athlete wants to accomplish.

As coaches, we know kids “rise to the occasion” and typically live up to high expectations. We also know there is a line where high, challenging expectations become perceived as hopelessly impossible to achieve. Keeping our expectations at a healthy level is like climbing a mountain (with children) knowing there is a cliff at the top. We must climb the mountain, but stay away from the cliff. Fortunately, with proper training and a progressive curriculum, we can keep that cliff at a safe distance while continuing to climb.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent information, thank you