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Jon Woodward
210
Young People

The Impact of Role Models on Players and Coaches

Sports icons can be fabulous role models for young people, and coaches themselves have a huge influence on motivation, behaviour and attitude

I have previously blogged around the importance of positive role models in the development of young performers. Seeing people succeed at sport at the highest level can inspire young people to take up a sport and also to continue to higher levels of competition. 

Over 2016 I've experienced this myself, as the Olympics, tennis success and the Lions tour have brought athletes into my own household for the first time through the eyes of my daughters.

Successful sporting personalities are now held in high esteem, with the Mo-Bot being the choice of celebration when something goes well, and the appearance of many of these sporting icons on various TV shows.

Sportspeople as icons

The icons of sport offer up dreams of what could be, uphold what is good and true about the sport and start as the entry point onto the path of lifelong involvement. But popularity and fame comes with risks.

What happens when these icons fall from grace? Over the past few years we have seen racist abuse claims aplenty, accusations and admissions of cheating in football, and the fall from grace of high profile performers as they admit to doping to success.

How does this impact on performers, both young and old, and on their perception of sport, success and how to get there?

Studies around role models show that behaviour and perception of the sport, the game and of life is directly influenced on the young (and the not so young!) by these ‘icons’.

It can actually be a difficult and an uninvited role. Famously, Bradley Wiggins’ reflected in his biography that “I never wanted or chose to be a role model”.

However, either as a famous sporting 'hero' (I use this word loosely) or as the people who guide children through sport, we are the chosen few.

As a coach, you are the hero to your performers and they begin to share your beliefs and actions.

Reflecting on the role of the coach


To help you think about how coaches can succeed as positive role models, I have these suggestions:

  • As coaches, we need to extol all the virtues that are good about sport – you are the role model who has the closest contact with the children, and one of the first people who guides the child’s view of sports.
  • As parents, we should support the coaches in their development and become part of the athlete's coaching team.
  • Use positive examples to reinforce your aims – for example, if a child is struggling with an activity, it is important to make sure you are not telling them they are wrong, but encouraging them to explore new techniques with advice and guidance, e.g. “Have you tried catching the ball with two hands” as opposed to “No, you are doing it all wrong”.
  • Creating this mindset from a coaching perspective has an amazing impact on how the players speak to each other, and also develops their confidence in being leaders, offering positive critique and receiving feedback.
  • Be mindful of your actions and reactions – a thrown water bottle, an aggressive gesture towards an official or an “oh no” head-in-hands at an action can speak volumes. It is important to show restraint and control, in all situations from a setback to a success.
  • Identify those athletes, performers and coaches who are at the top of their game and use them as the examples alongside your beliefs.
  • It is important to support younger coaches developing their trade to understand what they do is noticed by their players. For example, I observed a young coach within my own club recently on a chilly training night with his sleeves tucked over his hands, shoulders raised and looking cold and uninterested. Not a major issue, but appearance and perception of non-interest could soon pass on to the children. A quiet word and explanation of the importance of image works wonders.

It is often said that you should never meet your heroes, as you may be disappointed in who they are - but imagine if you as a coach are the hero to your performers, and they begin to share your beliefs and actions.

It is a scary thought, but get it right and who knows what the children of today could become tomorrow ... and they will take time to thank you for it too.

Related Content

If you want to read more about coaching models and applying them in your sessions, then Jon has posted a number of articles on ConnectedCoaches - UK Coaching's free online community for coaches of all sports and activities:

Jon, along with rowing coach Rachel Hooper, has also written about the use of new technology in coaching and the HudlTechnique app:

Calling Children's Coaches

Gain a full understanding of the 'C' system and how to include it in your coaching sessions by attending UK Coaching's workshop Coaching Children 5-12: The Next Generation.

Develop your coaching

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Jon Woodward