The words parents and coaches choose when communicating with young athletes can boost kids’ confidence or deflate it, says Ganon Baker, a sports development coach who has worked with teams internationally and also played basketball in Iceland.
When talking to kids about a game, for example, he suggests the “sandwich” approach: Say something positive, give some constructive criticism, end with something positive.
“Words affect kids’ confidence–whether they’re from friends, parents or teammates,” says Baker, who we recently interviewed for our Ultimate Sports Parent Radio podcast. The job of parents and coaches, he says, is to use words that are positive, specific and impactful.
“You have to be specific, keep their attention and don’t break their heart or spirit,” he adds. If a child’s team loses a game, what do you say after the game? Nothing–unless the player asks for feedback. In that case, be sure to use the sandwich method of communicating. The tone coaches and parents choose is critical.
They need to remove emotion from constructive criticism and refrain from using “destructive” words like lazy and selfish, Baker says. “Always say, “I’m proud of you for trying and participating. I’m proud of you for trying to do your best’,” Baker says.
In addition, don’t be too wordy. Give short nuggets, sound bites and bullets when communicating. Be aware of the limits of kids’ attention spans, he says. Coaches sometimes talk too much and don’t listen enough, he says.
With the right words, tone and intentions, parents and coaches can have a big impact on kids’ confidence–in sports and life, he says. Help your young athletes feel confident and happy in sports!