What Makes a Good High School Sports Coach?

A high school sports coach is a very unique role — you’re not only developing student athletes to achieve their best, but you’re also a part of the wider school community.

You’ll teach fundamental skills to kids and advanced tactics to others. You’ll coach an entire netball or football team over the course of multiple seasons, and if you’re lucky, you might experience great success.

Oftentimes, you’ll also be a shoulder to lean on (or cry on), someone to talk to when an athlete is going through tough times, and you’ll teach general life skills to set up the next generation for success.

It’s rewarding. It’s demanding. And it’s one of a kind.

But what makes a good high school coach? Here’s everything you need to know.

Key takeaways:

  • You’re more than a coach; you’re a mentor 
  • Try to get the best out of each of your athletes
  • Know how to provide effective feedback & support

High school coach qualities 

  1. Provide a positive experience for all students
  2. The coach genuinely cares about their athletes
  3. A good coach pushes their athletes but also supports them
  4. Improve players’ weaknesses and double down on their strengths
  5. A good coach teaches the importance of discipline
  6. Lead by example
  7. Teaching that it’s not always about winning
  8. Use technology to provide effective coaching feedback

Provide a positive experience for all students

High school students have a lot of responsibilities. 

Unlike elite athletes who eat, sleep, and train, high school athletes have a lot more on their plate. For example, they have classes, exams, hobbies, relationships, and other things going on in their lives.

It’s unlikely and unrealistic to assume that student athletes can follow the same day-to-day recipe for elite success.

A lot of kids also run into family problems, relationship issues, and bullying. It’s not just about sport.

This is not unheard of — high school can be a tough time for a lot of kids. 

That’s why it’s even more important to provide a positive experience for all students as a high school coach.

For a lot of kids, sports are a way to relieve stress, hang out with friends, and have fun. But to make sure they get the most out of it, high school coaches should:

  • Encourage sport participation
  • Keep training fun and interactive
  • Emphasise teamwork and good sportsmanship 

The coach genuinely cares about their athletes

A high school sports coach who actually cares about their athletes — how they are doing in school and in general — will provide a lot more value to the youth than others.

Most likely, they will also play a much bigger role in youth development. 

Unlike a sports coach who’s coaching the world’s best basketball or football team, high school sports coaches face numerous unique challenges.

Yes, you might have one or two-star athletes. And you might have a team capable of winning a state championship. But you’re also part of the school community — there’s a lot more to it than the eye can see.

Great coaches (especially in youth) also teach life lessons, are mentors, and oftentimes, are somebody to talk to on or off the field if a kid is going through a tough time.

But who knows, you might have student athletes succeed, too. That’s the dream of every high school coach.

A good coach pushes their athletes but also supports them 

A good high school sports coach knows how to get the most out of his/her athletes.

But equally, they are there to support them when they need it. Whether that’s after a defeat, through injury, a tough training session, or the stress from exams and high school.

A good high school coach knows when to push their athletes and when to step off the gas and tone down the intensity. 

As part of a wider community, you have more responsibility. Some training sessions will be skipped for exams, and for others, kids may feel unmotivated, tired, and not in the zone to perform.

The best coaches recognise this and work with (and not against) the athlete to get the most out of the students. 

Improve players’ weaknesses and double down on their strengths

Many coaches are quick to identify a player’s weaknesses. Maybe their short pass could be improved, their form breaks down in the last 400m of a race, or their long pass is inconsistent.

And while fixing (or at least improving) these weaknesses is a must — you should also double down on their strengths.

Perhaps the athlete has an excellent long pass, great leadership qualities, or is dominant when running elbow to elbow on the track.

Many successful coaches improve athletes’ weaknesses but also double down on their strengths.

This contributes to player development but may also result in overall better teamwork on the pitch. It’s no surprise that the best coaches take the best skills and qualities from their athletes and use these to their advantage in competition. 

So what should you do as a coach?

  • Identify your athlete’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Work on these one at a time
  • Ensure the coaching experience is more positive than negative

A good coach teaches the importance of discipline

Youth sport and sports at high school teaches the importance of discipline and hard work.

Students will show up to training even when tired, push when needed, and get the most out of themselves (with the support of a good high school sports coach).

A lot of the skills you teach your athletes are transferable outside of sports. For instance, the discipline they learn on the track, court, or field can be applied to their studies and futures. 

For example, a conversation on goal setting in sports can be put to use in other domains of life.

Good high school sports coaches recognise the opportunity to teach valuable life advice in sports. Many of your athletes don’t want to become the next LeBron James, but you can teach many lessons that can be applied off the court.

Recognise this and put your knowledge to good work! 

Lead by example

We’ve all met that one coach who has a positive attitude no matter what. Win or lose. Rain or shine.

If you can lead by example and with the right attitude, you’ll encourage kids to do the same.

Share your love for sport, teach the importance of respect and a good work ethic, and you’ll hopefully get the same in return.

Coaching high school students can be very rewarding. And a lot of the time, you get out what you put in. It starts with your approach to coaching — so put in what you want to get out.

Teaching that it’s not always about winning

Winning feels great. But it’s not always about winning — it’s about growing as a team and giving it your all. 

As a high school sports coach, you should teach the value of improving (as a player and a team) over winning. 

This lesson goes beyond sports. Knowing how to deal with stress, loss, and failure is a very valuable life lesson.

Sports contain many highs and lows. Often, kids will encounter these first-hand in the game. A good coach teaches athletes how to deal with adversity.

Use technology to provide effective coaching feedback

Giving feedback to high school students can be tough. While some kids may have dreams of becoming professional athletes, others may want to focus on an entirely different area in life. And that’s okay.

But to provide more effective feedback, you need to better relate to the students — you can use technology to do this. 

The current generation of high school kids are very good at using technology. So why not take advantage of this?

For instance, you might use a smartphone to capture an athlete’s form for visual feedback or use fun and interactive training videos to teach fundamental skills.

And while you may need to adapt your coaching strategies ever so slightly, you’ll find it to be very rewarding.

Rewire for Teams — Athlete Management Platform

Rewire for high school coaches 

High school coaches have a great amount of responsibility — they are a huge part of the school community, and for many athletes, are trusted mentors.

A lot of the coaching you’ll do in a high school will be general talent development and fundamental skills training.

But you’ll likely also have a handful of athletes who have the skill, ability, and desire to go that little bit further.

Rewire for teams can help you provide better coaching recommendations and insights for these athletes. You can monitor their stress management and readiness for training to better balance school and sports. It also means you’ll have better data to prepare for training and competition.

Book a free consultation today to learn more about how Rewire can help your team.


What are the best qualities of a sports coach?

A good sports coach is positive, supportive, a mentor to their athletes, respectful, and very good at communicating. The best coaches also recognise that their coaching goes beyond sports.

What are the characteristics of a good mentor?

Good mentors (in sports and in life) are good listeners, are very knowledgeable, honest, non-judgemental, and know how to give quality feedback.

What skills are needed to be a sports coach? 

Professional coaching skills include a good understanding of sports, patience, a keen eye for analysis, great organisational skills, and others.

Related Topics:

What Separates a Good Coach From a Great Coach?
What Qualities Make a Great Sports Coach?
6 Ways to Inspire Your Sports Team as a Coach
5 Qualities of a Bad Coach (And How to Avoid Them)


5 Qualities of a Bad Coach (And How to Avoid Them)

Know what qualities of a bad coach to look out for for the best experience.

Chances are, you’ve seen a bad coach or two. And if not, then you’ve definitely heard stories.

There’s the bad coach who yells at their athletes at the most minor of inconveniences; there’s the coach who encourages their athletes to run through pain; and others who do not listen to the athlete’s needs.

If you’re an athlete and you’re mentored by a bad coach, you may encounter a mix of issues ranging from injury to a lack of motivation to train. 

And if you’re a coach, it’s a good idea to watch out for these bad coaching qualities to ensure your athletes can progress and grow in a supportive environment. After all, it’s the coach’s responsibility to get the most out of their athletes.

So what are the bad qualities of a coach?

5 qualities of a bad coach

If you’re a coach, these are the bad qualities you should pay extra attention to:

  1. Bad coaches provide more criticism than positive feedback 
  2. A sole focus on winning
  3. Chooses favourites
  4. Pressures players to play when injured
  5. Does not listen to athlete feedback

Continue reading to see how each bad quality may contribute to a bad coach.

Related: What Qualities Make a Great Sports Coach?

1. Bad coaches provide more criticism than positive feedback

There are many types of feedback coaches can provide athletes. At the most basic level, there is positive and negative feedback.

Positive feedback is your standard: “Keep going; you’re doing great. Only 400 metres to go” approach. On the other hand, negative feedback could be the “you’re too slow, you’re never going to win a race” type of feedback. 

The second is the type we want to avoid at all costs.

Bad coaches often provide more negative feedback or criticism than positive feedback. Unfortunately, this is often counterproductive and can cause athletes to not look forward to, or even dread training.

Instead, there is a better way to think about feedback.

The skill training communication model

If you’re a coach, you should consider personalising your feedback. This is something a lot of good coaches do.

The skill training communication model takes into account the skill level of the athlete to determine what type of feedback works best.

For example, beginner athletes are more likely to benefit from basic trial and error and positive model learning (demonstrated technique and execution). Alternatively, more experienced and elite athletes will benefit from more instructive and direct feedback. 

In the elite population, this could include technique adjustment suggestions (“drive your knees high and push forward with your hips.”).

Although a simple change in how a coach provides feedback, it provides a mix of instructional methods to get the most out of your athletes based on their current skill and experience.

Related: What is the Most Effective Way to Provide Feedback to an Athlete?

2. A sole focus on winning 

“If he dies, he dies.” Okay, well, not quite. But it’s that Rocky IV approach that you should avoid at all costs.

Coaches who focus solely on winning are typically not the best coaches.

And while results matter, athlete development and progress are more important.

In fact, focusing on athlete development, progression and teamwork (if a team sport) can mean the difference between winning and losing.

3. Chooses favourites

It’s obvious to spot, and it makes other athletes feel left out. If you’re a coach, avoid choosing favourites.

And while you may have that one “star” athlete, when training in a group, provide the same respect, attention, and time to all of your athletes.

There shouldn’t be the “chosen athletes” and then the “other athletes.” It should be one team.

4. Bad coaches often pressure players to play when injured

When an athlete has an injury, they need rest and recovery. It’s coaching 101.

But when a coach encourages an athlete to play or train through injury, this is a major red flag.

No athlete should play through pain and injury, even if it means the difference between winning and losing.

A coach who puts their needs first, not listening to their athletes and encourages players to play through pain and injury is one to avoid. 

5. Does not listen to athlete feedback

Some coaches often do not listen to athlete feedback. Instead, it’s often the “what they say goes” approach.

There are numerous issues with this coaching method. 

Firstly, having open communication between coaches and athletes is crucial. If an athlete feels like they cannot speak up, they won’t get the most out of themselves during training.

A great example of this is an athlete feeling a slight twinge, pain, or niggle during training or competition. A bad coach may create an environment where speaking up about their injury is not encouraged. Alternatively, if they do mention it, they may be told to run or play through pain.

Open communication between the coach/coaching staff and athletes can help protect their athletes from injury, not only causing pain, but potentially ruining their season or even career. 

So if you’re a coach, how can you improve communication? It starts with being present and available for your athletes. Stay behind after practice, ask what they thought about the session, and be there for your athletes if they need you. 

Bad coaching in youth sports

A bad coach is a bad coach. Period.

Unfortunately, many kids who play sports also encounter a bad coach.

Coaching at the youth level (for most kids) should be about teaching valuable life lessons, involving the whole team, and making training fun.

Just like any other coach, youth coaches should not play favourites, exclude players, and should not prioritise their own child (if they also coach them — which is common).

Parents should meet with youth coaches before practice and ask for reviews from other parents to find the best coach for their sport. You can also find coaches through schools.

What makes a bad coach?

In many ways, it’s easier to identify what makes a bad coach than a good one.

Typically, bad coaches are easy to spot — you’ll find them screaming at their athletes, athletes will complain about them, practice is something they dread, and you’ll see a bunch of athletes hobbling off the pitch or field with injuries. Although, this is not always the case — just an extreme observation.

Related: What Separates a Good Coach From a Great Coach? 

To summarise 

Many coaches are great at what they do. But some coaches have a few bad qualities, some of which we’ve highlighted in this blog post.

If you’re a coach, consider working on any bad qualities you may have. This will make you a better coach and mentor for your athletes.

But it doesn’t have to end there. 

All coaches are looking for new ways to gain that competitive edge, to find a few extra seconds here and there, and to stand out against their competitors. It’s what sport is all about.

Rewire for teams provides a mental fitness platform for coaches, alongside a handful of useful tools for your athletes. As a coach, you can view insights into your athlete’s readiness scores, providing you with essential data to make smarter recovery decisions. This allows you to tailor your coaching to each individual athlete, enabling you to unlock their full potential. 

With Rewire, we have been able to help understand our athletes mental state which has allowed us to adjust our practices, weight lifting, time with the athletes, study halls, etc. where we are better able to manage them on an individual basis as well as collectively. This is a tool every coach should have in their toolbox.” — Will Hander (Head Coach Men’s Soccer, University of Providence)

Find out more about Rewire for coaches


How do you tell if you have a bad coach?

There are many signs of a bad coach but some include winning over everything else, picking favourites, providing negative feedback, and having poor communication with their athletes.

How do bad coaches affect athletes?

Bad coaches can bring players down mentally and physically. They can drain their motivation for their sport, stagnate performance, and even cause mental health issues.

Related Topics:

What Separates a Good Coach From a Great Coach?

What Qualities Make a Great Sports Coach?

6 Ways to Inspire Your Sports Team as a Coach


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What is the Most Effective Way to Provide Feedback to an Athlete?

Do you know how to provide effective feedback to an athlete? Here’s how.

How hard can it be to give feedback to your athletes? While it may be straightforward to identify what they are doing well and what they need to improve, communicating this feedback is a whole other game.

So it likely comes as no surprise that many coaches ask themselves the following question: what is the most effective way to provide feedback to an athlete? 

The most effective way to provide feedback, based on current research, is to provide athletes with personalised feedback based on their current skill level. 

For example, you wouldn’t provide constructive and very technical feedback to a beginner, much like you wouldn’t provide very basic feedback to an elite athlete.

This blog post explains why feedback is important and provides you with all the info you need to give effective feedback to your athletes.

Key takeaways:

  • Provide your athletes with different types of feedback depending on their current skill level
  • Evaluate athlete performance
  • Balance objective and subjective feedback for the best results 

Why is feedback important?

As a coach, your job is to teach and mentor your athletes to improve their performance. But providing feedback is not as simple as saying what an athlete is doing well, and what they can improve. It’s a little more complicated than that.

Related: What Separates a Good Coach From a Great Coach?

Feedback and coach-to-athlete communication play a pivotal role in the development of an athlete’s ability. 

If you provide feedback correctly, you’re more likely to see rapid improvements in technical skill, coordination, and overall performance training. It’s less of “stop doing that,” and more of “why don’t you try this instead.”

One way to provide the most effective feedback to an athlete is to follow the skill training communication model—but more on this shortly.

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” — John Wooden, Basketball Coach.

How do you give feedback to an athlete? 

When giving feedback, common instructions might include phrases such as, “arms high,” “focus on the ball,” or “drive your knees forward.”

But instead of providing basic instructive feedback to all athletes, you should provide a certain type of feedback to your athletes based on their skill level.

This type of feedback is much more personalised, and can be adapted easily to the skill of your athletes. 

Use the skill training communication model 

The skill communication model takes into account the athlete’s skill level to determine which type of feedback to provide [2].

Many coaches make the mistake of providing the same coaching and feedback to all athletes. And at first glance, it makes sense — it’s easy to do, and all athletes are looking to improve. So why wouldn’t you?

But instead of providing all athletes with the same or similar feedback, you should tailor your feedback approach to their skill level. 

For instance, athletes who are beginners to the sport — in the coordination training phase — may be better suited to general trial and error, learning basic coordination and movement before more technically demanding skills.

Examples of feedback for beginner athletes include:

  • “Can you pass the ball to the next free player in front of you right after receiving it?” 
  • “Try different ways of throwing the ball to pass it to your teammate behind the defender.” 
  • “Attack the ball by diving into it like superman” 

Rather, athletes who have more experience and are competing at a high level, perhaps dealing with intense pressure, may benefit more from direct, or instructional feedback from a coach.

Examples of direct feedback you can provide your athletes include:

  • “Try both legs to carry equal weight. Then move arms and hands together in one unit, while keeping the wrists solid.”
  • When the pitcher’s front foot plans, look at the arm position and the way the shoulder turns.” 

The previous examples of effective athlete feedback were taken directly from the skill training communication model.

And athletes who fall into the “skill adaptability training” category — that is, athletes still developing skills but also involved in competition — are more likely to benefit from a wider range of feedback methods. You can view all recommended feedback methods here.

Furthermore, it’s thought that athletes in the “skill adaptability training” phase will benefit from competition at a higher level, but at the right times and in small doses. For instance, asking a younger (or less experienced) athlete to sit on the bench during a competitive game.

What is the best way to evaluate athlete performance?

Evaluating athlete performance is a necessary part of providing feedback. The better you understand what an athlete is doing right (and what can be improved), the easier it is to provide the right type of feedback.

So what is the best way to evaluate athlete performance? You can try:

  • Live athlete feedback (part of the skill training communication model)
  • Prioritise objective feedback

Continue reading to see how you can approach each athlete’s feedback evaluation method.

Live athlete feedback

Live athlete feedback is a collaborative effort between the coach and the athlete.

Instead of telling the athlete what they should do differently, you can sit down with them and show a recording to demonstrate your point better.

This type of evaluative feedback can be both positive and constructive. 

The athlete messaging system on Rewire’s Teams Platform allows Coaches to provide direct feedback and send Mindset Recovery sessions to your athletes when they need it most.

Provide a healthy balance of subjective and objective feedback

Subjective feedback is how an athlete (and the coach) feels — how did the performance go? Objective feedback is based on data — how fast did you run, what was your heart rate, maximum watts, or finishing position?

While it’s easy to prioritise objective feedback (thanks to the abundance of data available), athletes and coaches should adopt a balanced approach of objective vs subjective feedback [1,3].

A great example of combining the two approaches is live athlete feedback, as previously stated. You can assess both objective (what you see on the screen) and subjective (how the athlete felt and how the coach responded) feedback.

Rewire for teams & coaches

Find out how Rewire can help improve your coaching approach by providing you with valuable feedback, including how well-rested and ready for training your athletes are — we call this “the readiness score.” 

With this data, you can make smarter training and recovery decisions, tailoring your coaching to each athlete. Pair this with the best feedback types for the athlete’s skill level, and you’ve got a framework for success.

“The athletes using Rewire so far are loving it and its improved communication and awareness around readiness. The fact that cognitive toll is accounted for athletes with busy work lives means that we capture a broader holistic understanding of fatigue and where it’s coming from.”

— Bevan McKinnon (Head Coach Fitter Coaching (Triathlon)

Find out more about Rewire for teams


  1. Montull, L., Slapšinskaitė-Dackevičienė, A., Kiely, J., Hristovski, R. and Balagué, N., 2022. Integrative proposals of sports monitoring: Subjective outperforms objective monitoring. Sports medicine-open, 8(1), pp.1-10.
  2. Otte, F.W., Davids, K., Millar, S.K. and Klatt, S., 2020. When and how to provide feedback and instructions to athletes?—How sport psychology and pedagogy insights can improve coaching interventions to enhance self-regulation in training. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, p.1444.
  3. Saw, A.E., Main, L.C. and Gastin, P.B., 2016. Monitoring the athlete training response: subjective self-reported measures trump commonly used objective measures: a systematic review. British journal of sports medicine, 50(5), pp.281-291. 

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4 Powerful Ways To Prioritise Mental Health In Athletes

Get the basics right, and you’ll set yourself up for success.

Question: Victoria Pendleton, Gracie Gold, Michael Phelps, Naomi Osaka, Mary Cain, and Tyson Fury… what do these athletes have in common? And we’re not talking about the success they’ve had in their careers.

Answer: Each of these athletes has opened up about their struggles with mental health. 

Mental health in sports has become increasingly talked about in recent years. And with the intense pressure elite athletes face, combined with the scrutiny from the public and press, and not to mention internal and external expectations, it’s a recipe for some dark times.

But the more people talk about mental health, the easier it is to set up the right systems to combat it. 

Here’s how to prioritise mental health as an athlete. 

Key takeaways:

  1. Prioritise rest, sleep, and recovery
  2. Find a team or coach that supports you
  3. Surround yourself with the right support team
  4. Know when to take a step back

Prioritise rest, sleep, and recovery

You already know the importance of sleep, especially as an athlete. 

When we sleep, the body recovers. It’s how our muscles repair and adaptations are made — it’s how we improve.

Think of it like this: each day, you write yourself a check for the hard work you put in (training and nutrition). However, the check is only useful if you cash it in. The bank is sleep — you take your checks, cash them in, and reap the benefits.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not only at an increased risk of injury, but you might be sacrificing your mental health.

For example, Mind mentioned that those who have trouble sleeping might feel more anxious, depressed, or even suicidal. You may also lack the energy to train and compete. And perhaps, you’ll feel lonely and isolated and not want to train with your team.

Prioritise getting quality sleep and rest each night. If you struggle with sleep, you might want to look at your sleep hygiene — that’s those healthy habits that set you up for sleep success.

Good sleep hygiene habits include:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Get sunlight exposure as early as you can in the day to set your circadian rhythm
  • Avoid caffeine after 2 pm 
  • Limit screen usage in the hours leading up to sleep

You can also check out the Rewire mindset recovery sessions, designed to promote rest, relaxation, and better sleep.

Find a team or coach that supports you 

As an athlete, you likely have a coach.

For most, it’s peanut butter and jelly — one does not work quite as well without the other.

Whether you’re a long-distance runner, javelin thrower, professional basketball player, or tennis player, a coach guides your training and provides mentorship. 

And while sometimes there isn’t too much choice, if you can choose, try to find a coach that supports you.

Let’s use the Mary Cain example: she was the fastest girl in America until she joined Nike. Until she wasn’t. To cut a long story short, the coaching relationship was far from a match made in heaven.

According to Cain, the coaching team did not listen to her needs. They told her she needed to become thinner, and thinner, to become faster, as mentioned in a video for the New York Times.

Over time, she fell into a system where weight loss was encouraged to an unhealthy extent. Ultimately, this wreaked havoc on her mental health and even led to suicidal thoughts.

While it’s easy to say, “choose your coach wisely,” it can be challenging to do in person. But if you can get a coach that works with you and supports you, then you’ve ticked one of the big boxes.

Surround yourself with the right support team

Your coach is your main mentor, but alongside working with a coach who supports you, try to find other athletes who stand in your corner.

It helps to have a support team behind you. That can include athletes, coaches, coaching staff, and friends and family.

But more importantly, work on surrounding yourself with the right people. 

Talking to other athletes is an excellent place to start. You have a lot in common, likely encounter the same problems, and you understand the intense pressure of sport.

You don’t need to build a supportive team and network overnight, but you should be intentional about it.

Know when to take a step back

Professional Greek Olympic runner, Alexi Pappas, suffered from depression following the Olympic games—she wasn’t ready for what happened after she achieved her dream.

Now a major advocate for mental health, Pappas was told that her depression was a “scratch on her brain.” This helped her visualise her injury, and know that it did affect her but that it could be fixed.

Pappas stands behind this statement and emphasises mental health as a legitimate bodily need. She goes on to say, “…if you’re unable to compete because you’re risking your body, then don’t compete.”

A great example of this is professional tennis player, Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open back in 2021 for mental health reasons. As athletes, we need to know when to take a step back, and not to feel ashamed about it. It should be as essential as eating, drinking, and breathing — prioritise mental health the best you can.

Related: Naomi Osaka: Mental Health Journey.

Use Rewire to optimise recovery

Keeping tabs on your mental health, checking in with yourself, and optimising recovery can prove challenging. But you can use the daily Rewire readiness platform to track physical, cognitive, and emotional states. 

Based on your holistic readiness score, Rewire’s engine generates tailored recovery sessions designed to address your unique needs such as reducing stress, improving sleep, or achieving a more relaxed state.

The app also integrates with Strava, OURA, and other platforms to provide you with a holistic view of your health, training, and recovery status. 

While it’s impossible for us to know how you’re feeling, prioritising time for yourself each day and assessing your readiness score is a great place to start when it comes to putting your mental health first as an athlete.

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How to Build Mental Toughness in Youth Athletes

Help youth athletes build a healthy relationship with hard work and mental toughness — here’s what you need to know.

Mental toughness is a term thrown around in abundance in the world of sports. Many people believe that those who display the highest levels of mental toughness will come out on top — they will succeed. 

Although the term is almost as popular as Michael Jordan in his prime, very few people know what it actually means. After all, it is a very subjective term — people have their own definitions of what mental toughness is.

David Goggins will give you a different definition than Michael Jordan, and LeBron James will describe it differently to Tiger Words.

At Rewire, we prefer the definition of mental toughness as a personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of subjective or objective performance despite everyday challenges and stressors, as well as significant adversities [2]. 

Typically, mental toughness is only applied to adults and professional athletes. But what about youth athletes — should they build mental toughness to improve performance? Here’s everything that you need to know.

Related: The Science Behind Mental Toughness

Mental toughness for youth athletes 

If youth athletes can learn mental toughness from a young age, they can then apply this not only to sports, but to life.

Sport is a powerful vehicle for building positive habits, beliefs, and developing discipline.

But how should coaches and parents build mental toughness in the youth? Read on to find out. 

Maximum effort 

Great coaches should encourage maximum effort in youth athletes. However, where many coaches go wrong is by punishing or withdrawing support when the athlete does not perform to their expectations.

Instead, their maximum effort is a better gauge of performance — working hard each session will instil the importance of hard work.

Coaches should show encouragement and praise hard work to reinforce this behaviour. It’s not only a lesson that pays dividends in sports, but also in life.

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” — Michael Jordan

Encourage mistakes — they are a part of learning 

We all make mistakes — it’s a part of human nature. But as a coach for young athletes, you should not discourage mistakes as they are a necessary part of learning and improving from our experiences.

If you’re a coach, allowing your athletes to make mistakes can prove difficult — you don’t want to hurt their confidence, but equally, you want them to improve and learn valuable lessons.

So, how can you encourage learning from mistakes? For optimal learning, you can increase training difficulty to the point where youth athletes make mistakes approximately 15% of the time [5]. 

If you increase the difficulty of training, whether learning a new skill or attempting to hit challenging splits too often at too hard a difficulty, then the cons will likely outweigh the pros, perhaps resulting in a frustrated athlete.

It’s all about finding a healthy balance between success and learning from mistakes to become a better athlete.

I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.” — Serena Williams

Build a solid foundation by emphasising sports to be fun 

As a coach, you want your athletes to succeed. But at a young age, it’s important for sports to be fun — this encourages a balance between physical fitness, psychological well-being, and lifelong lessons and learning [4]. 

Children and youth athletes participate in sports to have fun. If, at an early age, they do not enjoy sports, they might be less likely to continue participation in that sport (and others).

Coaches and parents should prioritise sports participation to be fun. All too commonly, parents and coaches skew the goal implicitly or explicitly in the hopes of a scholarship, that the child will become a professional athlete, or as a parent, to achieve unfulfilled childhood dreams [1].

For example, imagine a twelve-year-old showing up to training twice a week and being told to run as fast as they can twelve times around the track. That’s not a fun session — and while they may do it, if they are not having fun, they’re less likely to go back.

But if you can build a foundation for the athlete, prioritising fun with hard work sprinkled throughout, the athlete is more likely to stick with the sport, learn valuable lessons along the way, and perhaps even avoid burnout. That’s a big win in our book.

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually, it will subside, and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” — Lance Armstrong

Create a healthy training environment

To get the most out of a youth athlete, coaches and parents should foster a healthy training environment.

As previously stated, training should be fun. It doesn’t mean it can’t include difficult aspects, but first and foremost, it needs to be fun. The training environment needs to reflect that — incorporate games into training, be there after training and competition if your athletes want to talk to you, and create a place that kids and youth athletes look forward to coming to.

And if a child wants to do multiple sports, encourage them to. 

There’s a whole debate surrounding multiple sport diversification vs. early sport specialisation in one sport. But ultimately, being told they can only do one sport may increase their risk of burnout, injury, and other risk factors [3]. 

Besides, trying other sports is also fun! And this is the ultimate goal for youth sports — it is also likely to encourage mental toughness.

 “Pain unlocks a secret doorway in the mind, one that leads to both peak performance and beautiful silence.” — David Goggins 

Key takeaways  

Developing mental toughness from an early age can help youth athletes push through pain, learn from their mistakes, and ultimately become better athletes. But the benefits span far beyond sports — they also transfer to life, teaching self-discipline, hard work, and not giving up.

To build mental toughness in youth athletes, coaching and parental figures should:

  • Teach the importance of hard work and effort
  • Keep training fun and exciting 
  • Create a healthy training environment
  • Do not discourage multi-sport participation 

And if you’re looking to take it a step further, you can try the Rewire neuro buttons and neuro training app — create a fun cognitive game for youth athletes. This helps train mental toughness and is a great tool for youth athletes looking to compete at the highest level.

Want to know more about how Rewire can improve your athlete’s mental toughness? Book a free consultation call with our team today!


  1. Brenner, J.S. and Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, 2007. Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics, 119(6), pp.1242-1245.
  2. Gucciardi, D.F., Hanton, S., Gordon, S., Mallett, C.J. and Temby, P., 2015. The concept of mental toughness: Tests of dimensionality, nomological network, and traitness. Journal of personality, 83(1), pp.26-44.
  3. Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G. and Hassmén, P., 2011. Athlete burnout: An integrated model and future research directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4(1), pp.3-24.
  4. Merkel, D.L., 2013. Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open access journal of sports medicine, pp.151-160.
  5. Wilson, R.C., Shenhav, A., Straccia, M. and Cohen, J.D., 2019. The eighty five percent rule for optimal learning. Nature communications, 10(1), p.4646.