10 Tips for Communicating with Young Athletes

Posted on: November 10, 2016

"Being able to communicate with kids is a skill that all parents and coaches can always improve. Over my years of coaching and teaching, here are some quick tips I’ve learned to help you communicate better with your kids, athletes, or both (for us parent-coaches)" - Mike Klinzing

1. Get to their level

I have found that kneeling down or squatting puts me at eye level with my young players. That allows me to have better eye contact with all of them and keep their attention. Instead of looking up at an authority figure (which can be daunting for kids) we are all eye-to-eye. This helps send a message that coaches (and parents) are all one team with a common goal.

2. Your actions speak MUCH louder than words

Kids remember what you did, not what you said. If you don’t want them complaining to officials, then neither should you. If you don’t want them making up excuses, neither should you. If you don’t want them to scream at people when there’s a problem, neither should you. I think you get my point. Model the behaviour you expect from your players or your kids.

3. Kids’ attention spans are really short

I recently read a study from John Wooden’s 1974-1975 season that showed he most frequently spoke in 5-7 second busts, with specific and pointed instructions. You don’t need a 5-minute lecture to show how smart you are. The kids have already tuned you out. If it’s good enough for the Wizard of Westwood, it’s good enough for the rest of us – be brief with your players.

4. Don’t let the small things go

Small things ignored become big things. If you want your players to box out, or make eye contact, or run off the floor when substituted, make sure you enforce those actions. Otherwise, you’re bound to face larger issues because kids know when you’re not making them accountable.

5. Talk to everybody

Make it a point to say hello or have a quick conversation with each player prior to practice. That lets kids know you care about them as more than just an athlete. Use their name during the conversation too – everyone loves the sound of their own name!

6. Let them know you’re proud

The process is what drives success. Let your kids know that you are proud of their hard work even if the results aren’t what everyone hoped for. A tough loss or a bad test grade can make this one hard, but if they truly put forth great effort let them know that is how future success will happen!

7. Use contact to connect with them

I’ve used this with players that get upset during a game or practice and found it very effective in calming them down, keeping their attention, and getting them to refocus. All it takes is hand on their shoulder, holding their head, taking them by the hand. I’m obviously not talking about being overly physical or rough – but gentle physical contact can help them to regain their concentration in the moment.

8. Remove (or move) distractions

Try to have your talks where there is the least amount of stimulus. Face the team away from the court if there is a practice going on at the other end of the gym. Or you face the stands while they look onto the empty court during a timeout. That’s why so many teams bring stools out onto the floor away from the fans. Away from distractions.

9. Replay your message

Guess what? They are not going to get it the first time! You must repeat your most important messages over and over and over. Ask a parent whose child is very polite how long it took for them to make that happen. It takes forever and then you need to keep working at it. Basketball is no different. If you want something done, the message must be constantly replayed.

10. Separate the child from the player

Their worth as a person should not be tied to their ability as an athlete. If you are mad and upset at your child, they may believe that your love for them depends on the results on the court. Same goes for coaches. Kids need to know that they are valued as people first, players second.
Effective communication with our kids or players will always present us with unique challenges. I hope you find these tips helpful in improving your communication and making the sports experience better for your child. Check out more advice for coaches and parents at Head Start Basketball.

Article Written by Mike Klinzing - Mike Klinzing is Founder and Executive Director of Head Start Basketball(Cleveland, OH). Offering youth basketball camps and skills training for over 20 years, Head Start Basketball uses the game to improve character, develop leadership, and promote sportsmanship. 

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