How does a coach cater for differing skill levels between participants and what do they need to consider when developing programs for junior sport?

Junior sport should be all about fun, but it also offers a host of other opportunities for children to gain social skills, build self esteem, learn about fair play, meet people from different social and cultural backgrounds, and develop physical skills.

Young athletes – from early childhood through to late adolescence – are constantly developing and changing, which means coaches need to also be adaptable and do more than simply deliver scaled-down versions of adult programs.

Junior sporting coaches should be aware of the different capabilities of each child and match training to their needs. Following are some tips to guide you when coaching children:

Children need lots of opportunities for unstructured play, so plan a variety of activities to keep them engaged and give them plenty of time to learn new skills.

  • Cater for varying skill levels.
  • Focus on developing broad physical skills like balance, agility and coordination. Incorporate some sport-specific activities but only if they’re fun and they maximise participation.
  • Introduce new skills and ideas one at a time, keep instructions simple and don’t talk too much! Children are much better doers than listeners.
  • Be supportive, praise them for the things they do well and give all children your time and attention, not just the most talented ones.
  • Encourage fair play, teamwork and cooperation.
  • Be a role model.

Coaches of young athletes also need to ensure that every child or young person who takes part in sport is able to participate in a fun and safe environment, and be protected from neglect and physical, sexual and emotional abuse. To help ensure this happens, coaches should:

  • maintain appropriate boundaries
  • maintain control and avoid losing your temper
  • avoid transporting athletes and made sure parents are clear about collecting their children
  • plan for overnight and away trips
  • ensure qualified people attend to injuries
  • support participants with a disability
  • have clear guidelines for photographing children.

All sporting clubs should provide guidelines for coaches and other personnel to ensure the safe, inclusive, fair and fun participation of children in sport. Go to the Play by the Rules website for more information about Working with Children and to the Templates section for easy-to-use templates, including: Disability Inclusion Policy and Drop off and pick up of children.