Coaching Children: Positive development in and through sport


What do coaches do? Coaching has traditionally been seen as an activity whose only objective was to improve someone’s athletic prowess.

From this perspective then, a coach simply gets a participant to ‘run like Bolt’,‘bend it like Beckham’, ‘jump like Ennis’ or ‘smash it like Murray’.

As a result of this long-established interpretation of coaching, we, as coaches, have mostly been concerned with developing four key areas in our participants, players and athletes, namely the physical, technical, tactical and mental, with a very high percentage of our time spent on the physical and technical.

The table below gives simple examples of some of the capabilities we look to develop in the children we coach in these four areas.

Table 1: Examples of children’s physical, technical, tactical and mental capabilities


We have also assumed over the years that children and young people develop personal and social skills through their participation in sport, but we haven’t really paid much attention to how this happens. We have tended to see this not as a direct responsibility of the coach, but more as a consequence of ‘good’ coaching (Figure 1).

figure 1 

Sport is always good, isn’t it?

We know, however, that as well as the potential to do a lot of good things for people, sport is one of those activities that unfortunately is also known to have negative effects if the conditions are not right (eg low motivation, put off sport for life, low self-esteem, eating disorders, use of performance-enhancing drugs).

Coaches play a big part in creating the necessary conditions to ensure that sports participation impacts positively on children’s personal and social development.

You may think that this is not coaching’s responsibility, but that view sells sport way too short. It is like saying that children go to school only to learn biology and maths, and not to become better people and, over time, full contributors to society.

The good news is that taking care of this through our coaching doesn’t take anything away from the development of the traditional outcomes of the physical, technical, tactical and mental. We can do it as we go along, as long as we plan for it.

The ‘C’ system for positive development in and through sport

Sports coach UK has developed a framework to support coaches in achieving holistic development of the physical, technical, tactical and mental together with the personal and social aspects that make up a well-adjusted young person. This framework, coaching the whole child: the ‘C’ system for positive development in and through sport, is firmly grounded in the current psychology trend of positive youth development (PYD).

One of PYD’s main guiding principles is looking at children and young people as ‘resources to be developed, not problems to be managed’ (Roth and Brooks-Gunn, 2003; Lerner, 2005). In a nutshell, every child and young person has the potential to thrive and become a successful adult.

In sport, the ‘C’ system for coaching are: competence; confidence; connection; character and caring; and creativity.


The ‘C’ system now offers coaches a tangible set of outcomes that account for the personal and social development of a person in and through sport.

This model is underpinned by two key messages:

  1. Children and young people who score higher in the areas of competence, confidence, connection, character and caring, and creativity thrive in comparison to their peers and make a more successful transition from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood on their way to becoming fully contributing members of society. They also show less incidence of problem behaviours (e.g. antisocial traits, depression).
  2. The level of development of the ‘C’ system has an impact on how children approach sport and what they take from it, but most importantly, sport can play a major role in harnessing the growth of these positive traits and therefore in the overall positive development of the child in the wider world.

What does it mean for coaches and coaching?

We have a challenge on our hands. The challenge is not to change what we do, but to start looking at it from a different angle.

Can we make the personal and social development of the people we coach an explicit objective of our sessions and programmes? If so, how? 

Table 3 shows the basic interaction of the physical, tactical, technical and mental elements with the ‘C’ system. We can easily see how it all fits together now. So for example, a way in which you as a coach can foster creativity through physical development is to run physical challenges where participants have to solve problems as they go along (yellow box).


And the bonus ball!

As if supporting the development of well-adjusted children and young people were not exciting enough for you to try this approach, research shows that those who score highly develop in other ways – one of which we call contribution.

Contribution is all about putting something back into the environment and community we live in. It’s about becoming a fully participating member of society. What more can we ask for than well-rounded individuals who have a two-way relationship with their surroundings, giving and taking in equal parts?

It’s all in the planning

Sports coach UK has developed a session plan template to support coaches wishing to incorporate the ‘C’ system into their day-to-day practice. The following session plan is intended to illustrate how coaches working with a group of children may integrate the various elements of the model into their delivery. From that perspective, the sections contained within the planner are relevant to the particular context in which this session takes place (a community club), but may not be applicable to other environments. It is for you, the coach, to take the principles portrayed by this example and apply them to your specific situation, where appropriate.





 Next steps: A call to action

  • Does this look ‘doable’ in your coaching environment?
  • Why not try to use the session planner for your next session?
  • Why not look at your last session plan and try to pick out activities that are already promoting the development of some of the ‘C’ system?

For example: That small-sided game I run is a great tool for tactical creativity!

  • What about setting yourself a goal of targeting one of the ‘C’ system at your next session?

For example: Next session, I’m going to promote creativity and connection by letting my players come up with a new drill in groups of four.

 Want to know more?

Go to and buy Coaching the Whole Child: Positive Development Through Sport.

Book yourself on to the three-hour workshop ‘Coaching Children (5–12)’ to gain first-hand experience of the application of the ‘C’ system. Contact the sports coach UK Workshop Booking Centre on 0845-601 3054 or visit for more information.


Haskins, D. (2010) Coaching the Whole Child: Positive Development Through Sport. Leeds: Coachwise Business Solutions/The National Coaching Foundation. ISBN: 978-1-1905540-78-5.

Lerner, R.M. (2005) Promoting Positive Youth Development: Theoretical and Empirical Bases. Washington: National Research Council/Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Science.

Roth, J.L. and Brooks-Gunn, J. (2003) ‘What exactly is a youth development programme? Answers from research and practice’, Applied Developmental Science, (7): 94–111.

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