One of the greatest joys of being a coach is the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of young athletes. Youth sports are more popular than ever, for better or worse, and an increasing number of dedicated youth athletes are looking for an edge against their peers.
Working with young athletes is fun and rewarding, but it can be difficult. Ages vary, group sizes fluctuate and attention spans have been known to vanish for little youngsters. Whether you're working with 12-year-olds mastering the basics or 18-year-olds on sport-specific training, every coach runs into challenges that are much different from the challenges they encounter with adults.
Getting a young athlete, or a group of them, to buy in to my program is a major goal for me. It wasn't always easy, but I've been able to have a pretty solid amount of success. Three main components have helped me make the youth training process smooth and successful. Try some of these tactics with kids you're having a tough time with and I guarantee you'll notice a difference.
Value the Individual, Build the Team
If you work with larger groups of kids, this can be a game changer. You have to value the individual to build the team. I stole this from my wife, a 6th grade teacher, who employs it in her classroom where every kid has a job. Whether it's turning on the lights in the morning, leading the class through the hallway or making sure there are extra pens or pencils available in the classroom, it gives each kid a sense of responsibility, pride and accomplishment. The students, not the teacher, end up holding each other accountable for their jobs. That's buy-in.
I apply the same concept to my kids in the weight room. Every kid has to be valued as an individual in order for him or her to buy in to the team concept. You have to make each athlete believe that without them, there is a chink in the team armor. We need all individuals performing at a high level for the team to get better.
What that looks like in your situation may differ. Maybe you make kids station leaders, mini-group leaders, put someone in charge of the team dress code, make someone responsible for team attendance, or have special handshakes and celebrations with each kid. The options are endless.
Every group is different. Every kid is different. Find a way to make each student-athlete an extension of yourself. You can't watch 50 kids at one time, but if you have 50 kids who buy in, you'll have 50 extra sets of eyes encouraging, coaching and holding one another accountable.
Make Yourself an Accessible Resource
Another phenomenal way to encourage buy-in from younger clients and athletes is to make yourself an accessible resource for them. You may be the smartest coach in the world, but if your trainees can't get in touch with you, or don't know how, then you are actually not that valuable.
Accessibility is key. It doesn't mean you have to be on-call 24/7/365 for any and every question. This article is making me accessible. Any time a coach needs advice on this topic, it's here on the internet forever. (Yeah, this is one thing I don't mind being on the internet forever. Those pictures from college, though, not so much).
Of course, your athletes can visit you during office hours, shoot you a text or email when appropriate and always ask you questions during a training session, but what you need them to buy into most is the other 23 hours of the day when you're not with them. Under your care, all is well. Getting kids to adapt to the vision is what makes their time away from training so successful.
A great way to become more accessible is to create online content that you can easily have your kids reference. Got a question on hand placement during deadlifts? Read this. Not sure which protein powder to use? I've got you covered here. Your low back hurts and you need a pain-free way to squat. Check this out.
Now you have easy ways to help your athletes, and the work is done up front for the greater good of your vision. Plus, kids think you're soooooooooo smart because you write for magazines or online publications like STACK. Cool points go up; buy-in follows.
Over-Deliver Outside the Gym
A final tip for creating a successful environment within your youth athlete sessions is to over-deliver outside the gym. Inside the gym, over-delivering is your job. But let's be real. The true difference maker is when you go above and beyond outside your comfort zone.
Go watch your athletes play. Take volunteer opportunities at their school. When age-appropriate, have team events outside normal meeting hours. Some of the best memories I have of sports growing up were the times I spent with my teammates and coaches at the movies or getting together to watch a big game on TV.
Those moments create the rapport you need from athletes to get them to the next level. When you show them you actually care about them as people, not just as a dude who happens to throw a 98-mph fastball, that's when the ultimate youth athlete buy-in occurs.
If any of these points is new to you, try it out and watch your sessions get more productive almost immediately. If you've been using things like this for awhile, keep up the great work! It's truly an honor to have the chance to shape the young minds of the world and help them not only become great athletes but awesome young men and women.