5 Ways Empathetic Listening Works in Youth Sport

Being able to listen actively is a skill here’s how it positively affects youth sports

Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash

Having empathy is NOT the most important skill to have when you coach youth in sport.

While having empathy for a young person is noble and involves your understanding of a young athlete’s thoughts and feelings, this alone will not make you a great coach of young athletes.

Knowing something is one thing but actively putting it into place is quite the other. To become a great coach of youth sports you need to show active empathy. As the old saying goes:

“Actions speaks louder than words”

and this is very true with empathy.

Empathetic Listening:

By listening to a young athlete you are showing patience. If you don`t agree with what they say it can be challenging to continue to listen in a non-judgmental way, but this is exactly what is required with empathetic listening. Using small phrases like ‘I understand’ and ‘ah-ha’ is acceptable when using this skill as it reassures the speaker that you are actively listening and not just shutting off your brain when they are speaking.

All people want to be heard but young people are especially used to not being heard. Growing up is a tough time for many and having an older role model present should give them a firm sounding board to bounce things off. By using active listening properly you need to act as if you are a mirror to the other person. Try to tap into your experiences of being that age and the interest or talent you had for the sport that they play. Of course, it’s tough to align your values and experiences exactly with the experiences of the young people of today, but there are overarching similarities that you must continue to keep front of mind. Among these are:

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1.Young athletes want to be part of a team:

The well-worn phrase of:

‘together everyone achieves more’

describes TEAM perfectly. The beauty of being young is that you have a natural inclination to connect with others. Many of these connections are new and it’s fun to meet new people. Having a sense as a young person that your natural inclination to connect in this way can bring about the power of many people together that actively changes something for the better is an exciting thing to be part of for anyone of any age. But experiencing it for one of the first times in life elicits a deep commitment to believe it is possible to be successful. This blind nativity is one of the best characteristics of young people and it motivates their positivity and energy to be invested in their sport. That means they are full of interest in investing in their coach’s ideals too.

If the coach decides to actively show empathy it reinforces the young athlete’s natural feelings that positive teamwork will result in success.

The great Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie explained it all well when he said:

“Teamwork is the ability to work together towards a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results”

By coaching young players and actively listening, a coach has the power to bring these results about.

2.All young sportspeople want to be assured they are performing well. They require an affirmation that their efforts are appreciated by their coach.

However, the reality is they may not be performing to the best of their ability or they simply may not have the skills that you thought they could develop at this stage of their development. You may be tempted to say this to them when you are adopting the empathetic listening technique but this will not help them at that time. For them, just entrusting to you that they are willing to speak and you are willing to listen is huge during the early stages of this form of listening. This can build trust with them and their coach even if nothing more than you sitting and properly listening takes place.

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3.Being part of a team for a young male athlete aligns with their sense of what positive masculine values ought to be:

Although there is much written in the modern-day about equality there are still distinct differences between most males and females. When it comes to young males who play a sport they often equate their playing of sport to their sense of masculinity.

I can recall when I was that age and how all the lads were different shapes and sizes and I was towering above them in the locker room. I felt natural respect from my peers simply because of my huge size and I knew that many of them wanted to be bigger, and stronger and still had hopes of growing this way.

It’s natural to want to improve, and for a young male in sport, they often understand that being bigger and stronger is a sign of being potentially more mature and closer to being an adult. And all young truly competitive sportsmen want to play at the highest level of their game.

4.Playing youth sport is a positive outlet for physical frustrations:

Youth is a time of development. This development happens in many ways. One of these ways is the changing hormonal feelings brought on by puberty. Sexual arousal becomes a thing for young people and this can be an awkward awakening for many young people. Many embarrassing experiences can occur for young people as they begin to come to terms with their newfound feelings, and this can cause social unrest between them and their peers. Of course, no young person wants to experience this form of unrest and so many young sportspeople use sport as a positive outlet for physical and sexual frustrations that they may feel.

5. Being involved in youth sport is a positive social outlet among peers:

In many villages and towns across the world, there are sports that light up the local communities and give hope and something to follow to the residents of the area. For example in the US, Friday nights can be a hugely significant time for young sports stars as they showcase their talent in front of their family, friends, school, peers, neighbors, local business people, and many others.

The pressure of perfuming well in front of all of those close-knit people in their lives motivates them to improve and do their best. Having the courage to perform in front of these people is admired by many of the young people’s peers and this builds a sense of respect and admiration. It vindicates the reason why they work so hard and become committed to improving at a sport in the first place.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Two ears are better than one mouth:

So it’s clear that being a great coach of youth sports requires much patience and understanding. Knowing it all and communicating that to the players is not the most important thing. Being there for a young person and winning their trust is not only active empathy on your part but, it is the seeds to success for all youth sport.

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Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.

Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.

Forbes, INC. & Entrepreneur Magazines, CBS, & NBC Featured, Dr. Conor Is The World’s Leading High-Performance Neuro Socio-Psychologist & Co-Authored 4 Books