What Teens Want in a Coach

We asked teens in an online survey what coaches should care about most: winning, teaching, or giving everyone a chance to play. Hundreds of teens answered, and it turns out that winning was a loser:

  • 46% said giving everyone a chance to play
  • 45% said teaching new skills
  • 9% said winning

Winning Isn’t Everything

“When you are a good coach, winning or losing is secondary to you. You care more about the morale of your team,” said Daniel, 13.

Most teens said they respect coaches who put winning in perspective. Kim, 13, told us, “A good coach isn’t obsessed with winning, but will motivate you and your team to want to win.”

Winning seemed to be slightly more important to boys than girls in our survey: 17% of the boys who answered said coaches should care most about winning compared with only 7% of girls.

Understanding Players

A coach has to understand a player’s weaknesses and strengths, many teens said. “They need to know the sport and the athletes well enough to make good choices for the athlete,” said Shannon, 14.

Many teens told us about coaches who helped them. When Aerielle, now 13, played soccer in third grade, she was small and skinny and the other kids picked on her. “One day the coach sat next to me and said that even though I couldn’t kick the ball down the field, I was fast enough to be at the other end to receive it. She said that I should forget about what other people think and stick to what I try to do, what I can do, what I like, and what it all makes me. The rest of that season I was the best midfielder on the team and even was chosen to go to the All-Star game.”

Tough But Fair

Coaches who are realistic and honest about what a player can achieve are the kinds of coaches teens look up to. Stephanie, 13, told us a good coach has “the ability to tell you the straight truth or facts without making you feel bad.”

Jessica, 14, said that when her coach told her she didn’t make the team, “He told me why and what I could do to improve, and he said it in a great way. I learned there’s a bad way to give an athlete bad news and there’s a good way.”

“A coach shouldn’t be too easy with the ‘it’s just a game, go have fun’ stuff. He should train the team hard — but encourage instead of yelling,” said Spence, 13.

Sport Skills Plus Life Skills

“Besides just coaching, they share wisdom and insight on life based on personal experience,” said Alex, 15, who told us about his high school wrestling coach. “It helps having someone besides a parent that’s an adult that you can talk to in some situations.”

Katie, 14, learned the power of positive thinking from her coach, something she said can apply to other areas of her life. “If you mess up, you have to shake it off and get focused again. Always think about what you will do, not what you won’t.”

Most teens said the best lesson they learned from a coach is “never give up.” Charley, 16, told us, “We all have bad days and bad competitions and it’s OK to be upset, but when you wake up the morning after, you need to set new goals and have a new focus.”

Working toward a goal as a team is a priority for teens. And coaches who treat players with respect, as equals, win their praise. “A good coach will listen to the team’s ideas,” said Kelsey, 14.

“A good coach understands that respect is to be earned and understands that they do not control the team, they are part of the team,” said Rebecca, 13.

Qualities of Good Coaches

Jessica, 14, thinks a good coach is “one who does not recruit others just because of their skills but takes those who actually tried out and works with them to improve.”

“They have to want you to succeed and not choose favorites,” said Katie, 14. Spence put it more bluntly: “A good coach should be fair and not be all about his or her little junior sports stars.”

Tara, 14, said she would “not just focus on a particular person who is maybe a little better than the rest, although I would help them get to their full potential.” And Kelly, 14, told us, “I would only start the ones who show up for practice.”

“A coach shouldn’t bring down your self-esteem,” said Rosie, 16. Dennis, 15, said, “I think a good coach is someone who doesn’t get mad if you lose or make a mistake but he pushes you to the limit.”

Rebecca, 13, told us, “A good coach understands that different people have different learning patterns and doesn’t stick to one forceful method to draw out a person’s talent just because that worked before.”

“I have a coach who doesn’t know a thing about baseball but he still tries to act like he does,” said Tyler. “He shows up in a suit and tries to coach us from the fence. A coach needs to have just as much heart as his players.”

“It’s not experience that makes a coach great (although it does help); it’s the quality of their coaching,” said Brynn, 13. She told us about one soccer coach who taught her skills like how to develop her endurance. Thanks to his strong coaching, Brynn got onto a club team. Her new club coach had a lot more practice as a player than her former coach. But she wasn’t able to teach skills as well. “Although she had lots of experience and could really move the ball, she had no coaching qualities. She was a player, not a coach.”

Daniel, 14, agreed. “A coach has to make sure they’re actually coaching, and not just playing with the players or doing it to improve their own physical fitness.”

“A good coach coaches for the love of the game, not for the publicity,” said Nick, 14.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

One message came through loud and clear in our survey: Sports are supposed to be fun, and coaches need to do what they can to keep them that way.

Almost all of the teens wanted their coaches to have a sense of humor. “My soccer coach is a role model; you can crack jokes on him and he will crack them back,” said Kelly, 14.

Teens said that team events — pizza dinners, group outings, etc. — are important. Nina, 14, said that if she were a coach, she’d take her team to a theme park for a good time.

“I would have at least one drill in which the kids choose what they want,” said Aerielle, “And do a variety of drills, not just the same ones over and over again.”

Katelyn, 16, said, “My basketball coach would never punish us with running because he saw no point in making us hate something we should love.”

Bianca, 13, said the best lesson her coach taught her is, “The fun things are fun, but the boring stuff is what you learn from.”

The Next Generation of Coaches

Many teens are already thinking about how they would handle their teams if they become coaches someday.

“If I was a coach, I would train my players hard,” said Monique, 16. “But I would be willing to help any of the players with schoolwork or problems.”

Katie, 14, said if she were a coach, “I’d let them know they’re doing well, but not so much to make them overconfident.” Melissa, 15, said, “I’d let them know that if they’re not doing their job, they’re gonna get a little talking to.”

Cordellia, 13, said, “I would start by asking the kids what their goals are. Then talk with them and lay out a plan for the whole year.”

Tom, 17, told us he would use the good side of peer pressure to get players to motivate each other. Annie, 14, said, “I would not let my players feel like they are the weakest link.”

“I’d make sure I saw them as a person with hopes, dreams, and fears rather than just another one of my athletes,” said Molly, 13.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD