Why Coaching Adults vs. Children is Different in Sports

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Coaching children is much different than coaching adults. For example, imagine trying to explain something to a child, and then how you would say the same idea to an adult. To an adult, you likely would have used longer sentences, advanced vocabulary, and talk at a moderate pace. To a child, you would have to do the opposite because of their differences. Explaining an idea to the different age groups has several differences. Now try to imagine coaching them, with all of the other factors that go into being a coach, from everything from demonstrating to instructing, amongst others.

Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when looking into the differences between coaching adults and children:

Attention Spans

Attention spans are a crucial determining factor when differentiating between coaching adults and children. Children tend to have shorter attention spans, and can come easily disengaged if the activity is not stimulating, or in other words fun (Richardson, 2015). Edson (2015), touched on how children often are there to just have fun and learn, so being able to cater their needs by being quick on your feet to adjust games and activities to keep them stimulated is crucial to your success as a youth coach (as cited in Richardson, 2015). Newcombe (2015), mentioned that, more or less, if you give children a chance to disengage, they will likely take the opportunity, largely in part to their aforementioned short-attention span (as cited in Richardson, 2015).

Adults, on the other hand, often have much larger attention spans and can grasp more from a more in-depth instruction as a result (Richardson, 2015). Edson (2015), mentioned that this makes adults easier to coach since, unlike children, you can typically focus on a single-given task for increased periods of time with less disengagement (as cited in Richardson, 2015).

Parental Input

Parental input can play a huge factor in their child’s development as an athlete, as a coach, you may have to compete with the parents input when coaching their child (Richardson, 2015). There is often times where parents pressure children into becoming the next ‘sports superstar’, where the child may just be there to have fun and enjoy themselves (Richardson, 2015).

From a parental input perspective, this is one of the advantages of coaching adults. Typically adults do not have their parents there to direct them at this point of their sporting career, thus making it easier for you as a coach to manage them as athletes (Richardson, 2015). This is due to many factors, mainly due to having to handle solely one set of expectations (Richardson, 2015).

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Typical Goals and Intentions
Children are often involved in sports to get exercise, have fun and build their social skills. Kids may still be learning to be passionate about the sport, making sure it’s fun and engaging, as mentioned earlier, is crucial to their progression (Shead, 2016).

Adults connect to the world of sport for many different reasons, on both sides of the competitive spectrum. However, unless you are playing at the professional or collegiate level, odds are that you aren’t playing sports in a competitive manner as an adult.

Stachowiak (2011), discusses how adults typically want to have a sense of direction in the sport they are being coached, in terms of how it will impact their overall quality of living. Children typically are convinced to learn certain things because their mentors tell them to learn it (Stachowiak, 2011). However, adults typically are motivated by the sense of direction and the purpose of doing the sport, exercise or movement (Stachowiak, 2011).

Stachowiak (2011), concluded that “Adults don’t tend to want to learn something just because somebody says it’s important. They need to understand for themselves why it is important before they learn it.”

One common reason for adults being involved in sports can be through the likes of rehabilitation purposes, which can contribute to their quality of life (Long, 2015). Exercise is becoming more commonly used as a form of rehabilitation, partially due to organizations such as EIMC; Exercise is Medicine Canada.

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Past Experiences

When coaching with kids, they often have little to no background in the way they learn things (Stachowiak, 2011). With this being said, you likely are not to run into obstacles with kids in the way things are taught and presented to them, since they have likely not developed a preferred way to learn and therefore tend to be easier to mold (Stachowiak, 2011).

Adults, on the other hand, have already developed certain preferred ways of learning, which can make things more challenging for you as a coach due to individualization amongst your group (Stachowiak, 2011). By understanding the background of our learners, coaches can more effectively use those experiences and tendencies to help facilitate a smoother learning process (Stachowiak, 2011).