The New York Times reports that the total amount of children engaging in team sports has decreased by over 10% in the past decade. In addition, 80% of youth athletes end up quitting sports by the age of 15. What has caused these drastic decreases?

Over time, sports have become less casual and more formally organized. Facilities for athletics have improved significantly, with places like gyms, sports centers, and indoor fields being available for teams and individual athletes.

Many kids go to multiple places for sports training, and have expert tutelage from various dedicated coaches in their sport. Some now also receive speed and agility training, and sport psychology consulting as well in order to maintain peak performance.

This has caused athletics to be much more competitive nowadays. Sports are a source of extreme stress for many serious athletes, which could be negatively affecting their performance.

As coaches, it is important to build strong relationships with your athletes in order to ensure the best outcomes for their success, in the game and in their lives as well. The following are the important building blocks to encourage success with your team:



1.Build Trust

Regardless of the sport, trust is the most crucial part of performance training. Whether it’s a one-on-one relationship between a coach and student, or a team working together to achieve a common goal, trust is the basis of sports. Individual athletes have to learn to trust their abilities and perform under pressure, with the guidance of a coach. Teammates must build trust with each other in order to reach peak performance, and they must build trust with their coaches in order to cultivate a healthy and successful team environment.

Depending on the level of trust developed, coaches can greatly influence their athletes mental and physical health in either positive or negative ways. Trust varies greatly based on the individual, but it is important to communicate with your student-athletes in order to see if there are any barriers to their trust. These barriers can be anything from self-consciousness to perfectionism or over-training.

Trust can be built through frequent check-ins and strong communication with your team.



2.Create an Encouraging Environment

Athletes perceive their athletic experience based on the leadership they receive, directly affecting their ability to perform well. Coaches, such as former UCLA Bruins Coach John Wooden and Basketball Hall of Fame coach John Wooden, agree that positive coaching is the greatest influence on athletes towards achieving greatness.

Coaches must create an environment of encouragement. Without this, athletes will not meet optimal performance and often burnout when they see their coaches as negative individuals. This is why maintaining a positive attitude is the best way to encourage and motivate athletes, branching beyond just their sports into life.

Coaches can impact athletes’ personal lives and goals, and subsequently influence how their athletes will interact with their communities. Research has indicated that positive relationships between coaches and athletes determines overall growth and success and lowers stress levels. This is crucial in creating positive outcomes for athletes.


3.Care About Mental Health

Over 33% of teens report feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and around 30% struggle with depression. Of those who choose to open up, most teens and young adults go to a friend, colleague or trusted adult for advice. For athletes, this is often their sports coach.  Coaches have the opportunity to stimulate positive change in the lives of their athletes and act as a lifelong mentor for their students through tough times.

Despite this, an overwhelming majority of young adults keep their emotions bottled up. Over half of teens who suffer from some sort of mental illness are left untreated, as they often feel ashamed or embarrassed to share how they feel or feel as though they have no one to turn to. This is extremely dangerous, as it puts them at a higher risk for substance abuse and other harmful behavior.

With the rise of technology, many can also turn to various wellness apps for meditations, affirmations, and other self-care resources. However, this is usually not a sufficient solution compared to one-on-one feedback and interpersonal relationships. Especially in sports, mental wellness is just as pertinent as physical wellbeing and should not be overlooked. Coaches play a key role in monitoring the mental health of their students and preventing athletes from burning out mentally and/or physically.



4.Success Beyond the Field

The relationships formed from playing sports often extend far beyond their time playing on the field. Time spent traveling together to tournaments, sitting on sidelines between games, or winding down after a game together help strengthen connections.

According to Bird Brown, sports-writer for the Carroll County Times, former athlete, and varsity soccer coach, the relationships he made with his teammates and coaches through sports have extended into other parts of life such as in the classroom, in work environments, etc.

Beyond just sports-related issues, athletes feel most comfortable talking to people with similar experiences, looking to coaches to play the larger role of being a mentor or parental-like figure in their lives.

In interviewing a few high school athletes, many note visiting their high school coaches during holiday breaks in college or staying in touch through the occasional text. For example, Steve G., a current college freshmen, can be seen at his old high school’s soccer games during weekend visits. This is common across graduated athletes, as their high school teams and coaches have a lifelong influence on them.

Coaches can play a huge role in the development of their student-athletes, and these are lasting impacts and relations that extend to life skills as well. Okaya can help strengthen your relationship with your team, and encourage lasting success with your athletes.

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