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Coaches Can Utilize Parents to Optimize Youth Athletes' Sport Experience

Bailey Sommerfeld and Tsz Lun (Alan) Chu

Strategies Cover March April 2020

Of all the leisure activities for youth, sports are among the most beneficial. The benefits of partaking in youth-sport range from better physical development to better social development (Bailey, 2006). One key way to continue getting these benefits is staying in sport, which is often linked to how motivated a youth athlete is in playing their sport. Sport motivation has been found to be most strongly related to a youth athlete’s intention to continue (Bailey, Cope, & Pearce, 2013; Clark, 2008). Self-determination theory (SDT) is one of the most prominent theories in explaining youth athletes’ motivation because of the extensive research evidence that has continued to support its merit (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

In SDT, there are three basic psychological needs in all humans—autonomy, competence and relatedness—that need to be met in order to be intrinsically motivated. The need for autonomy is the need for freedom of choice, being able to think independently. The need for competence is the feeling of being adequate in a task. The need for relatedness is the need to feel cared for by others. These three needs have been investigated heavily and supported in the context of youth sport (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Having a coach who gives youth athletes instructions open to interpretation in how to play or the freedom to play how they see fit would satisfy their need for autonomy. Youth athletes who see themselves as good, worthy players would have their need for competence met. Youth athletes who feel connected to their coach and teammates would have their need for relatedness met. Social agents, more specifically coaches and parents, play a vital role in fulfilling these needs in youth athletes (Chan, Lonsdale, & Fung, 2012; Martin, Ewing, & Gould, 2014). Therefore, it is essential that they do not only understand their influence on youth athletes but also know the best ways to fulfill those needs. The purpose of this article is to inform coaches of the influence they have on their athletes and how they can fulfill athletes’ basic psychology needs with support from parents in order to enhance their athletes’ sport motivation and adaptive outcomes.

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