Too often, team sports managements disenfranchise young players or potentially good players by treating them like pieces of meat. For too many coaches, If they are not up to making the first team, they are not important. It is important to remember that athletes (especially young ones) develop at different rates. A weak 12 year old could be an excellent 18 year old if given the opportunity, encouragement and support.

One of the main predictors of player retention is how one is treated by their coach. Whether you are a star player, a good player or a bad player, everybody wants to feel wanted and loved.  In fact Danish child psychologist, Abraham Maslow referred to this in his famous child psychology development model; his “hierarchy of needs” (1970). This transfers and applies to sport also. Other posts relate to a positive type of leadership in sport a coach should strive towards to  to make players feel valued and wanted and generate a dynamic where players want to be involved.

maslow hierarchy

The premise is that for one to garner levels of self esteem and a sense of achievement in realising their full potential, they must first feel like they belong and are valued by the coach. This doesn’t happen when a coach continuously decides to leave players on the bench when opportunities arise to play weaker players. At underage level, where most athletes play for fun and enjoyment, a coach must realise that it is most important that they develop an environment that fosters enjoyment and inclusion so that athletes continue in their sport past the coaches involvement.

Too often, a win at all costs philosophy on a coach’s part results in players leaving their chosen sport because of lack of playing opportunity. Too often we see young players being left on the bench for the coaches pride when their team is winning or losing comprehensively. Under 12 teams are now being trained in an exceptionally serious manner with the criterion for success being whether a championship is won or not. When all is said and done, in the greater scheme of things, does an underage title really matter towards long term success? While it may encourage those involved playing, for those not given opportunities, it may inherently tell them that they are not good enough to play. Remember that for every team that wins, there are a lot more losing teams with players on the periphery of the team so a coach’s discourse will most likely have a large impact on an athlete’s feelings of self worth in their sport.


As coaches in our hot pursuit of sporting excellence, we must not lose sight of the fact that children play for enjoyment, not success of the coach. A far more appropriate criterion for coaching success or lack thereof of an underage team would be whether the weaker players at under 12 level are still playing, developing and enjoying their sport as 18 year olds. If they are not, maybe one needs to ask questions of their methods, objectives and manner of coaching irrespective of how many championships a coach wins or loses.

Here is a fantastic 2 minute clip on why some of the All-Blacks played sport as kids.

As a coach of young players, one needs to ask and answer some of these questions?

Are the players having fun and enjoying the training?

Am I making them technically better?

Am i developing a love of the game in my players?

Am i helping all of my players feel wanted?

This can only be done by embracing the individual athlete as a person, creating a positive group dynamic and allowing athletes to enjoy their sport for the right reasons. Everybody just wants to feel wanted.

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