Focus on self-improvement, rather than winning, benefits young athletes

February 9, 2012, Michigan State University
Youth athletes report more life skill and character development when their coaches place greater emphasis on creating caring climates. Credit: Courtesy photo

Underserved youth athletes report more life skill and character development when their coaches place greater emphasis on creating caring climates instead of focusing on competition, according to research from Michigan State University's Institute for the Study of Youth Sports.

Playing in an atmosphere that focuses on player versus player competition creates a sense of teamwork and develops initiative, social skills and a sense of identity, report the authors of the study from the Department of Kinesiology institute.

The study, led by Daniel Gould and Larry Lauer, was published recently in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise. Ryan Flett, a former doctoral student at MSU now with West Virginia University, also took part in the research.

"The research adds to the growing body of knowledge that shows coaching actions and the team climates they create have important influences on the personal development of ," Gould said. "Our data suggests if coaches want to develop life skills and character in youth, it is important to focus on player self-improvement more so than winning."

The study surveyed 239 young urban athletes who completed the Youth Experiences Scale-2, which measures both positive and negative youth development experiences. The athletes, ages 10-19, came from underserved communities with a shortage of personal services and economic, cultural or linguistic barriers. They also completed a caring climate scale, a sport motivation climate scale and measures of the importance their coaches place on psychosocial development.

The results clearly show that the more coaches create caring and task-oriented climates, the more likely important positive developmental gains will occur. Creating an "ego climate" was found to be the single most powerful predictor of negative youth experiences.

"Coaches should create a climate or atmosphere where kids feel cared about, valued, safe and supported," Gould said. "These positive things should occur while at the same time avoiding the creation of an ego-oriented climate focusing primary attention on comparing themselves to others."

Conversely, creating an ego-oriented climate that focuses primarily on beating others was associated with negative developmental outcomes such as negative peer influences and inappropriate adult behaviors.

Coaches must balance the challenge of motivating players to be better with more important developmental goals, Lauer said. To achieve that balance, coaches need to accept positions in environments where they have support for their philosophy.

"If you want to focus on youth development and being positive, make sure you have your athletic director's and principal's backing," he said. "Then, make this expectation clear from the beginning of the season with parents and players."

Lauer added that improving performance and character do not need to be mutually exclusive.

"By teaching players to be responsible, communicate, lead and control their emotions, you will likely improve their performance," he said. "Coaches always talk about performing and having good character; the two ideals can co-exist."

Explore further: For kids, it's more than just a game

Related Stories

For kids, it's more than just a game

July 20, 2011
A cohesive team environment, assessing one's own performance rather than comparing with others, and involvement in enjoyably challenging practices are the main conditions needed for children to have a positive developmental ...

Mentoring programs -- how effective are they?

October 24, 2011
Whether it's parents, teachers, coaches, or family friends, there's no question that adults serve as powerful role models for youth as they transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Mentoring programs across ...

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.