Five Strategies for Coaching the High School Athlete

September 20, 2018

Millions of teenagers participate in sport each year in the United States. Last year, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) reported that almost 8 million high school students participated in a sport at their school. This is good news as sport participation has the potential to benefit youth both psychologically and physically. However, the positive outcomes related to sport participation do not happen automatically. The coach must create an environment and structure where teenagers can thrive in their high school sport and experience the benefits that sport offers.

Coaching Strategies for Creating Positive Experiences

As a coach, there are several factors you can think about and include in your coaching to make sure the kids your working with have a positive experience and learn skills they can transfer outside of sport. With club sports winning and performance is usually the focus of the team, however high school sports are meant to focus on the personal development of the athletes. In this article, we will share five key coaching strategies that all scholastic coaches should know in order to provide a positive experience for high school athletes and help them use their sport skills in the real world.

1. Have a philosophy that reflects your core values as a coach.

A coaching philosophy is made of the beliefs, principles, and values that guide one’s coaching practice. Having a well-developed coaching philosophy is critical to a coach’s success as it helps guide their coaching actions and enables them be more consistent in their interactions with athletes. As a scholastic coach, important values should focus on personal development of the athletes and should match the mission of the school. The goals of many scholastic sports are to maximize participation, teach positive life skills, and have success both on and off the field. It is important to take the time to reflect and determine which values and beliefs are most important for you as a coach and whether this matches the mission of your athletic department.

2. Build strong relationships with the athletes on your team.

The key to any effective coach is the strength of the relationship he or she builds with the athletes they are coaching. Through a strong relationship, the coach can empower athletes, improve communication, and find what motivates each individual. To build strong relationship with your athletes, take the time to get to know them on and off the field. When you’re at practice, try to check-in with the athletes to learn more about their lives outside of sport. Try to center your discussions on the needs and goals of each individual and make sure they feel they have a voice and role in their training and development path. This can be done off the field as well at team dinners or team activities. If you hold a team event outside of practice or training, include some organized opportunities for the athletes to share more about themselves outside of sport

3. Ask open-ended questions frequently.

Asking numerous open-ended questions can make a difference with your athletes in multiple ways. Asking questions can empower athletes to discuss their opinions and shows them they have role in the team decisions. Asking questions also allows coaches to get to know more about the athlete and how they think. Last, open-ended questions puts ownership and responsibility on the athlete to provide solutions and answers on their own. By not giving the athlete the answer, a coach can challenge them to engage in problem-solving and discover the solution on their own, providing a learning experience for the athlete.

4. Purposefully and systematically teach life skills.

In scholastic sport, the hope is that athletes are learning skills they can transfer outside of sport to help them succeed throughout life. There are many ways a coach can teach life skills. First, be a positive role model for your athletes. Model the life skills that you are trying to teach such as good sportsmanship or discipline. Second, systematically include life skills as part of training and practice. For example, you can include a goal-setting session at the end of a practice to teach the athletes how to set effective goals. Third, include discussions with the athletes throughout the season about how the skills they are learning in their sport can transfer to other domains of life. Finally, ensure the athletes you are coaching are practicing the life skills they are learning both in and out of sport. For example, give them the opportunity to organize a practice on their own. This will give them the opportunity to practice their communication, teamwork, and leadership skills.

5. Understand this generation of high school athletes.

Today’s high school athletes are part of Generation Z. Similar to all other generations, Gen Z’ers have strengths and weaknesses. It is your job as a scholastic coach to help them improve their weaknesses and capitalize of their strengths. While we cannot change youth culture, we can adapt to their characteristics and not fall prey to a negative opinion of them. Gen Z athletes are very good at using technology to find information and tend to be visual learners. As a coach, you can take advantage of this and use technology when teaching skills and providing feedback. Such as using a cellphone to record a short video of the athlete performing a skill to give them visual feedback. However, Gen Z athletes are also known to lack the ability to cope with adversity and often have a short attention span. As a coach, you may have to adapt some of your strategies to match their needs, such as keeping discussions short and to the point before they lose focus. However, make sure to include opportunities in practice and games for them to improve on such weaknesses


Written by Dr. Jennifer Nalepa, Assistant Professor in the Sport Coaching and Leadership Online Programs