An athlete can thrive in more ways than one with the right coach, but what exactly makes a great coach? Here are a few things this long-time coach believes makes all the difference for young athletes.

“A good coach wears many hats. Important ingredients include leadership skills, patience, innovation, excellent communications skills and a good sense of humour,” says Terry Nowostawsky, who has coached youth in hockey, basketball and cross-country skiing for years. “A coach must understand players have different skill sets and attributes and should focus on these skills. A coach must build confidence in weaker players by creating tasks and drills that players will complete successfully. Once they have succeeded, their confidence will grow and they will want to learn new tasks.”

Nowostawsky says everyone contributes to team spirit, including athletes and their families. He believes if parents and coaches work together to create a positive and encouraging environment for young athletes, children learn so much more. “Through sports, children learn physical awareness, decision-making skills and social skills. Participating in sports builds self-esteem, an important part of growing up,” Nowostawsky explains.

Team players must commit to each other and their coach. Players must understand the importance of their role within a team, which helps them comprehend the importance of succeeding in sports and school.

Karen Lukanovich, former Olympian and member of the National Kayak Team, has coached athletic youth for years. She says her experience with coaching athletes and supporting their goals requires an investment in best coaching practices and processes. Preparation of yearly programs and practice planning integrate core components that must be well planned, communicated effectively, and processes shared with and committed to by athletes. Plans and programs must provide performance measurements for ongoing evaluation, give critical feedback and be adaptable.

“I have discovered that best planning and processes are not enough in the pursuit of excellence,” Lukanovich says. “The art of coaching – whether as a business leader, coach or teacher – are important soft skills required to build relationships, create welcoming environments, encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and self-evaluation skills.” Lukanovich was fortunate to have some wonderful business mentors, coaches and teachers who inspired her with their leadership, motivation and support to help her achieve and exceed her goals as an athlete and business leader.

Shelley Coolidge, ChPC, EPA, Manager, Professional Coaching Services from Coaching Association of Canada offers key suggestions for parents who are contemplating signing up with a sports coach for their children:

  • Make sure they implement the “Rule of Two”: two screened adults working with children versus a one-on-one environment
  • Ensure background screening: two references, plus police record check
  • Find out if they have completed Respect and Ethics Training

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Each coach may teach differently, but a great coach can challenge children to be better people. Most coaches believe coaching has enriched their own life and has provided an opportunity to give back what other coaches have taught them. The key is to meet the challenge and to have fun.