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No exit! The secrets to keeping today’s youth actively engaged in sport | Coaching Youth (age 13-18) | ConnectedCoaches

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Coaching Youth (age 13-18)

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No exit! The secrets to keeping today’s youth actively engaged in sport

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Unmissable sessions

ConnectedCoaches Community Champion and UK Coaching’s Liz Burkinshaw provides advice to youth coaches on how to support young people during the transition from adolescence to adulthood so that sport and physical activity is not traded out of their lives.

  • Youth coaches are having to compete in a crowded marketplace, with so many attractions outside of sport bidding for young people’s time and attention.
  • Knowing how to reach out to this key audience is crucial in terms of growing and sustaining participation.
  • Young people can undergo life changes that are emotional, physiological, social or physical, and coaches should be alert to these changes.
  • The better you get to know your participants and their individual needs, the better placed you will be to support and nurture them during these transitional times of their life.

The perennial problem of high dropout rates in youth sport has taken on greater significance in light of the nation’s growing inactivity crisis.

Modern-day youth coaches can be excused for being in a state of flux, ruffled by research statistics that tell us participation levels decline with age.

The harmful knock-on effect on our young people’s health, happiness and wellbeing mean that coaches carry a certain burden of responsibility to ensure their ‘high risk’ group of participants (14 to 25 year-olds) do not become disengaged from sport and physical activity.

It is imperative they recognise the diverse needs of young people in a rapidly changing society and deliver relevant sessions that will motivate the whole not the many or the few, with the aim of tipping the see-saw in favour of recruitment and retention rather than disillusionment and dropout.

The bad news is that youth coaches are competing against attitudes to sport and physical activity that are tremendously complex.

The good news is that swathes of research in recent years has provided some deeper insight around drivers and barriers to participation, informing innovative intervention strategies that have the power to shape a brighter future.

‘We are getting better at understanding what our new generation of young people want to experience from sport and physical activity, and how this differs from the needs of adults,’ says UK Coaching’s Development Lead Officer Liz Burkinshaw.


‘We are trying to change some youth coaches’ behaviours so that the experiences they provide for their participants are more unmissable, more meaningful, more valuable, so that they become active for life, and privy to all the health benefits that brings.’

Transition time

For 14 to 25 year-olds, their reasons for engaging in sport or physical activity can vary from year to year, month to month even, as they zig-zag their way through life.

Through their impressionable adolescent years and into the independence of early adulthood, the youth of today face an overabundance of choices and changes. The many competing interests mean sport and physical activity can slip down the pecking order of priorities.

The factors affecting dropout can be emotional, physiological, social or physical. With increased independence comes busier social lives – pubs and clubs, shopping, cinema, eating out, holidays, romance and relationships – plus added pressures on young people’s time through work, exam study and an addiction to social media that has reached pandemic proportions.

Devitalising psychological factors which primarily affect girls further muddy the waters. They include a paucity of positive role models, self-consciousness and body image, loss of confidence and loss of appetite for competition.

The list goes on.

So many personal and lifestyle changes during milestones in young people’s lives; so many bewitching interests; so little time.

The upshot is that there is a high price to pay if our committed labour force of youth coaches working at the coalface struggle to adapt – tripped up by a shifting sporting landscape and left behind by the speed at which society is changing.

UK Coaching aligns itself with modern coaching methodologies and the latest insight and research into the multifarious motivations of the post-Millennials generation.

It recognises that giving youth coaches cutting-edge advice and training for their personal development is crucial if they are to keep participants engaged and passionate about sport.

To this end it offers a comprehensive cluster of learning resources (workshops, animations, online advice guides, infographics – which are detailed at the bottom of this blog) that help coaches better understand young people’s broader needs and motivations for taking part in sport in the modern age.

‘Youth coaches must look to develop personal and social skills in their participants and learn some key strategies around developing young people’s connections, confidence and basic competencies that will help them make their sessions unique, meaningful and enjoyable and, long-term, build a lifelong habit of taking part in sport and physical activity,’ says ConnectedCoaches Community Champion Liz.

Unmissable sessions

Softly does it

Coaching, as we all know, is not just about producing better players and athletes, it is also about improving wellbeing and life skills.

And coaching the person, not the sport, is the master key to unlocking a young person’s passion and potential and to getting them more active more often.

Coaches must remember that not everyone’s experience of sport at secondary school was positive.

There is a tendency for coaches to take a well-trodden route into the profession, that pans out something like this: Loved sport growing up, went to university, passed a sports degree, became employed as a coach and is now pushing their views of how much they loved sport on to younger children.

‘You shouldn’t plan a coaching system based on what you have experienced and liked as a sports performer,’ says Liz. ‘Put yourself in the shoes of the participant.


‘If a participant is low on confidence, driving those skills and techniques in your session plan will only hinder their confidence and character.’

How can I help you?

The objective of a grass-roots coach, then, should not be to develop the next great player.

The coach’s role should be to assess the different motivations of their group, recognising when fun, an exhilarating social experience and health improvement is more of an incentive for them than mastery of skills and technique.

And the key to discovering this inside knowledge is showing them that you care.

A coach who fails to put themselves in the shoes of their participants, fails to pick up on the social dynamics within the group and chooses not to build personal connections or develop competence and confidence is a coach who will, sooner rather than later, find themselves abandoned by their players as they quickly fall out of love with the game.

‘Participants should be challenging themselves, of course, but this might be from a standing start for some,’ says Liz.


‘In which case, you will not be motivating them by getting them to run laps for 60 minutes or singling them out to demonstrate skills.

'Do exercises as a group to build their confidence and make sure you intersperse games with any drills and fitness work. These can still incorporate building technical knowhow.’

Softer skills should always remain at the heart of your coaching, says Liz, as they are the catalyst to building life skills in young people – transferable skills such as confidence, character, leadership and problem-solving that help people develop into well-rounded people as well as performers.

It is paramount then that when young people do commit to joining a club, they encounter a youth coach who is committed to catering for all abilities, takes the time to get to know his participants and can meet the needs and motivations of a divergent group.

Youth coaches are competing against strong opposition. In a crowded marketplace, with so many attractive alternatives vying for young people’s time and attention, it is the role of a good youth coach to break down any barriers to participation, not unwittingly reinforce them by failing to move with the times.

Specific tips, tricks and handy hints for how to support young people during key transitions in their life, and how to avoid dropout, are provided in this supporting UK Coaching blog: How do you coach young people when life changes.

If you have anything you would like to share regarding the points made in this blog, please leave a comment in the box below. 

Next Steps

ConnectedCoaches Blogs

UK Coaching (formerly Sports Coach UK) Animation Series

UK Coaching Workshops

To find a workshop running near you visit the UK Coaching Workshop Finder.


This blog is also available as a podcast on a number of platforms including Itunes. Listen here.

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Comments (1)


"Coaches must remember that not everyone’s experience of sport at secondary school was positive." - This is a very valid point - the sport I coach - cycling - is not looked at in most secondary schools. Often we have young people come along who have no interest in the sport being offered at school and they are looking for a way to keep fit and challenge themselves. So called "minority or other" sports can do a lot to help the engagement of 14-25 year olds and coaches shouldn't be afraid to encourage their charges to try out different sports if it looks like they are about to drift out of sporting activity altogether.

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