Coaches make or break a child’s enthusiasm for sports. It’s important to have trained coaches who see potential in everyone and effectively motivate kids.

Challenge //   Well-meaning but untrained volunteers


Train all coaches.


Coaches are the delivery mechanism for quality sport programming. They determine how much exercise occurs during practice. Research aggregated by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition shows that good coaches also lower kids’ anxiety levels and lift their self-esteem.(46) They help boys and girls enjoy the sport. They can make an athlete for life — or wreck enthusiasm for sport altogether.


Trained coaches do best. One study found that only 5 percent of kids who played for trained coaches quit the sport the next year; the attrition rate was 26 percent otherwise.(47) But since grade schools got out of organized youth sports in the 1930s, recreational youth sports have relied on volunteers — few of whom have or receive the training that a Project Play roundtable of coaching experts identified as essential to delivering an early positive experience. Of the 6.5 million youth coaches, fewer than 1 in 5 are trained in effective motivational technique — how to communicate well with kids — and only 1 in 3 say they have been trained in sport skills or tactics.(48) 




Parents want better coaching for their children. In a nationally representative espnW/Aspen Institute Project Play survey, more than 60 percent of parents of children ages 18 and under identified the “quality or behavior” of coaches as a “big concern.” This underscores the need to create a national plan around coaching, with a special focus on girls and children from low-income families. A top official for the YMCA of the USA echoed this, saying his organization’s most pressing need is more trained coaches.(49)


Other countries recognize the value of trained coaches in growing participation. In the United Kingdom, the youth-coaching culture has been transformed through the introduction of a training framework. Canadian sport bodies now embrace a sport-for-life curriculum for coaches. In the United States, coaching leaders worry that requiring training will chase off volunteers. But just the opposite has happened with USA Hockey. The key, experts tell Project Play, is easy-to-use training tools, like online video demonstrations of techniques.(50)


Whether by mandates or incentives, the time has come to greatly increase the number of credentialed coaches in the United States. The minimum ask: training in 1) coaching philosophy on how to work with kids, 2) best practices in the areas of physical literacy and sport skills, and 3) basic safety.(51) 


Fig.13 [Citation]

What Kids Want From A Coach

The answers they gave researchers


Parent Resources


“A lot of coaches really stay focused on winning the game, and if your kid has a great arm they try overuse it. That could be a red flag.”

— Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

5 ways to tell that your child has a trained coach

Learn more in this one-pager created for Project Play by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.


Find the resources you need to be a better coach at our How to Coach Kids website, which includes a free, 30-minute course that offers grounding in the basics.


For a deep dive on developing social and emotional skills in children through coaching, explore our Calls for Coaches report, which includes a one-page checklist.

Train All Coaches: AN INTRODUCTION

Moderator: Terry Liskevych, Oregon State Volleyball Coach and Co-Founder, Art of Coaching

Panelists: Janet Carter, Executive Director, Coaching Corps; Chris Marinak, Senior Vice President, League Economics and Strategy, Major League Baseball; Anthony Robles, NCAA Champion Wrestler and Member of National Wrestling Hall of Fame; Deborah Slaner Larkin, CEO, Women’s Sports Foundation

How to Reach the Hardest-To-Reach?

Moderator: Mike Fletcher, Senior Writer, The Undefeated, ESPN

Panelists: Jon Feinman, Founder, InnerCity Weightlifting; Leah Friedman, Junior Development Coordinator, USTA Chicago; Tony Korson, CEO, Koa Sports; Richard Pavlick, Co-Founder, Project Leader & Coach, YLC Kids; Daleajah Williams, Playworks Junior Coach

What's Fair for Parents to Ask of Coaches?

Moderator: Rebecca Lowe, Broadcaster, NBC Sports

Panelists: Alan Ashley, Chief of Sport Performance, United States Olympic Committee; Michelle Mundey, Facility Director, Dept. of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County & Mom of E’Jai (12) and Neiko Primus (Nation’s Top-Ranked 9-Year-Old Basketball Player); Harold Reynolds, MLB Network Broadcaster and former MLB Player; Steven Stenersen, CEO, US Lacrosse.

2018 Project Play Summit

Can a Free Tool Change the Game?

Moderator: Craig Morris, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, U.S. Tennis Association

Panelists: Tierra McIntosh, Volunteer Coach, Volo City Kids Foundation; Wayne Moss, Executive Director, National Council of Youth Sports; Ben Reed, Specialist, Sports and Recreation, YMCA of the USA; Chris Snyder, Director of Coaching Education, U.S. Olympic Committee

“There are lots of volunteers who want to do this. It’s not like we have to convince them. The bad news is they don’t have access to the information they need, to be able to coach in a positive and age-appropriate manner.”

Janet Carter, Executive Director, Coaching Corps


The Aspen Institute recognizes select organizations that take new, specific, meaningful action aligned with each play. Learn how to be a Project Play Champion.


Only 25 percent of youth coaches in the United States are women.(52) But at Coaching Corps in California, it’s 47 percent — women are seen as critical agents in mentoring and as role models for girls, especially those in immigrant communities. To recruit women, Coaching Corps forges partnerships with universities, some of which provide students with college credit for participating in leadership training and volunteering as coaches. 

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