How coaches support clean and balanced youth sport
The role of youth coaching is a tough one. On the one hand, coaches facilitate an arena of possibility and growth for rangatahi on their journey to make new friends, develop new skills, set goals and celebrate successes. But coaches also have the responsibility to guide young players through failures, setbacks and the pressure of expectations – whether real or perceived. How kids learn to deal with these challenges can have wide-reaching impacts. It can be the difference between the decision to be cruel or to be kind; to keep trying or to give up; to reach for shortcuts or to act with integrity. So what can coaches do to support positive personal growth and behaviour in sport.
Who better to ask than two former athletes with years of youth coaching experience plus the clean sport perspective gained in their roles as athlete educators for Drug Free Sport New Zealand? We approached former Silver Fern Jodi Brown (NZNM) and ex-Hurricanes and Crusaders hooker Ged Robinson, who shared their experiences coaching young athletes and their ideas around how a clean sport approach helps empower kids to be happy, healthy and safe both on the pitch and beyond.
Jodi Brown (NZNM) is a former Silver Fern who co-coached the year nine A team at St Hilda’s Collegiate, Dunedin, the St Hilda’s Senior A team and the Dunedin U17 team.
“I got into coaching when a friend asked me to come and coach with her for her daughters' team - she wanted someone neutral so that parents couldn't have anything to complain about. I got the bug and enjoyed it. I saw it as a way to give back to netball, as it had given me so much throughout my career.
“Rangatahi are very busy people with multiple commitments, and sometimes they’re too shy or not confident enough to communicate effectively within all their various commitments. Having said that, I find that they are a lot more open to learning and trying new things; willing to experience and be given new challenges; and their fear of failing is less as well.
“I coach from a values-based approach, which means encourage working hard and getting results based on hard work. It’s about giving it your best, pushing yourself, and making a plan for what we need to do at training to achieve goals. I also come from the supplement angle as well - trying to discourage use at this age and instead promoting good nutrition, good hydration and good recovery methods. Basically, helping kids set up good systems.
“As a coach, you can play a part in instilling good attitudes, good values and good systems and strategies in players at an early age. This can set them up as they progress in sport and head into the adult world.”
Ged Robinson is a former Hurricanes and Crusaders hooker. Ged’s youth coaching experience includes soccer, cricket and rugby at U16 and Senior levels.
“I want to mentor and coach, to get to know people and learn about how to make them flourish and thrive. I love learning, growth and fairness – they’re all part of my value system. For me, it’s important to help kids develop these kinds of values before they start playing under pressure without the strategies they need to deal with the challenges they face.
“When I look back, the coaches I resonated with the most had a really strong value system that they showed. I respected them more and I wanted to play harder for them because of it. By focusing on clean sport values – the path to mastery, personal growth in and outside of sport, respect for fairness and integrity – over the win, coaches can get better win-loss ratios and instil values that kids can take with them throughout their lives, even if they don’t end up playing that sport.”
“Sometimes you see difficult or disruptive behaviours – but they are the top of the iceberg. There are a whole raft of things underneath that have developed those behaviours. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to stop judging by the behaviour on top and to put the effort into finding out and working with whatever’s underpinning it.
“Kids need to see that success in sport is a journey. It’s about mastering skills and knowing that development takes time. It’s teamwork, leadership and kindness. Good coaches instil this in kids. They help them think about why they play the sport. Then, when difficult situations decisions come up later, they can go back to the fundamental questions: Are these my values? Is this who I want to be?”
And amid the fun and celebrations of sport, challenges occur. Pressures, plateaus and poor play days can all challenge kids’ self-confidence and invite the temptation to cheat or seek shortcuts. To help them rise to meet those challenges safely, rangatahi need to be grounded in positive values that will underpin their choices and behaviours. Coaches have a unique opportunity to help kids establish this framework through a supportive and values-based approach which empowers youth athletes via autonomy and integrity. Focusing on fairness, mastering skills and good systems for play and recovery in sport helps young people make good decisions under pressure – now, and as they grow.
Thanks to Jodi Brown and Ged Robinson.