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HOW-TO lead an athlete to respect you and give you their BEST

When I was 19 years old I watched a coach yell (I know it was a yell because the kid stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the game to look at and listen to the “coach”) at a 9 year old for making a bad pass during a rec youth soccer game at FISC.

If you read that and either shook your head, felt sick at your stomach, or thought to yourself, “Some coaches just don’t get it”, than it is likely you share my belief about youth athletes.

I am now a student of youth sports coaches. I watch the way they coach first, and then I wait to see how the athletes respond and play afterwards. I am not kidding when I tell you that ONE out of every ten I watch coach in such a way that the athletes are inspired and encouraged after hearing that coach.

No wonder we have an issue with millennials listening to authority nowadays. It is not their fault!

And I stand by that statement, “IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT.”

Everything rises and falls on leadership.

The coach is the leader. If your team is not playing the way you want them to, YOU are failing them.

Maybe that kid had a rough upbringing and their parents have failed them as their leaders.

All that means is that you are going to have to work harder, longer, to gain the respect and attention of that athlete. We have to work through this all the time at PFP. An athlete comes in and they clearly have a bad taste in their mouth from former coaches, teachers, etc.

They don’t make eye contact, they don’t listen well, they don’t pay attention, and they clearly do not have a high level of respect for us....yet. Combine all those ingredients and you have an athlete that is not going to give you their best. And that is what we want as coaches, right? An athlete that is going to give us their BEST so we can help and inspire them to be the best THEY can be. It is a mutual goal and relationship.

So we accept the challenge as coaches and go on a journey WITH THEM. We are not their boss, nor their supervisor, nor someone who is going to use our positional power to make them do something.

We are going to lead them by showing them we care. We are going to be patient, kind, and understanding of them and their situation.

We are going to get down to their level and look them eye to eye when we need to reprimand them or address an issue. Just because an athlete does not respect you yet does not mean they automatically will be disrespectful, however if they do show disrespect of COURSE you need to address that.

3 Steps to get an athlete to respect you and give you their BEST


  1. Spend more One on One time with them  

As coaches I know we do not do this enough. We try to leverage our time. We have SO MUCH to do that how could we possibly take the time out to meet with kids 1 on 1 every so often.

Let me ask a simple question, WHY DO YOU COACH?

If the answer is some variation of, “To help young man and woman to grow and develop into the best young man or woman they can become”, than I argue that you do not have time NOT to meet with them 1 on 1

It is just like an adult who wants to lose weight and then 3 months later starts going back to their old ways. “I don’t have time to cook. I don’t like the taste of broccoli. I don’t like running!” We remind them that they STARTED this journey because they want to be around for their grandkids someday and they want to be able to run, play, and have fun with them. They DON’T want to die early, to be bed ridden, to be a lame grandma.

They quickly remember that they need to MAKE time to cook, suck it up and EAT the food they don’t like, and they need to hire a fitness coach and exercise even though it is not fun!

Step number on, more 1 on 1 time.

2) Ask Better Questions, Listen Better, and Remember

I used to be a really bad listener, because I never chose to work on it. I would ask an athlete what sport they played, when their next game was, what they were up to this weekend...they would tell me...and then the next day I’d see them and forget.

That’s because I had a million other things on my mind and I never realized how WRONG it was of me not to listen well and remember what they said. I didn’t VALUE what they were saying enough.

About five years ago I realized that my divine calling was to lead young men and women to their full God-given potential in sport and life. When I realized that, I realized that I had to become great at 3 things:


  • Question asking.  

Asking the right questions is a skill. “How are things?” Not a bad question if you refuse to settle for a “Good” reply.

“Tell me, what you think is holding you back right now from being the athlete you want to be?” that question demands a thoughtful answer.

I encourage coaches to spend 30 minutes a week making out a list of all the questions that could potentially be GREAT questions for their team. We watch game film to give our team a better chance of winning on the scoreboard, but how much planning are we doing to ensure we are on track with our mission and to ensure our individual athletes win?


  • Listening

Best tip: look the athlete dead in the eyes the entire time they are talking. It’s likely they aren’t looking at you, so it might not be that uncomfortable. Regardless, eye contact is key.

When I did not know my calling as a coach, I was a poor listener. Being a man of Faith, I think knowing that God wants me to be a better listener has personally helped me prioritize the importance of improving my skills in this arena.


  • Remember

If I write it down, I remember. If not, I forget 70% of everything I hear. Like you, I have a lot going on. I make notes in my phone about important things I want to remember as it relates to the athletes I work with.

3) Help them PLAY better and BE better

We confuse telling an athlete what they did/are doing wrong with HELPING them to do it better.

Every person in the world is good at pointing out someone's flaws. You do not have to be a coach to do this and you certainly do not have to be a great coach to do this.

I have athletes all the time who come to me with injuries. What are they asking for when they come to me with injuries? Are they asking me to tell them what they did wrong that lead to the injury, and then to tell them what they need to do?

No, no, no.

They are telling me for three reasons:


  1. They want to know that I CARE. We as coaches show this by step two: Asking questions, listening, and remembering.  
  2. They want me to SHOW them how to make it better. Help them BE better.  
  3. They want me to actually take the time to ENSURE they get better. I take the time to help them stretch, I help them foam roll appropriately, I get the ice for them, I lead them to the right doctor, I ENSURE they get better.

Those are our 3 steps to leading our athletes well and ensuring the give us their all so they can become all they were created to be.

Am I perfect? No. I forget sometimes and need a reminder. “I’m too busy to do that, I don’t have time for that, I don’t need to send a follow up text 3 days later to check it.”

I have those thoughts sometimes too, but I quickly remind myself WHY I do what I do. “What’s Your WHY, Andrew?”

Leading with position and authority is the lowest level of leadership. We need to lead relationally by showing our athletes we care about them deeply. We need to help them be better by leading them to produce better results. I believe that if we as coaches take these 3 steps seriously than we will get more out of our athletes and be building better young men and women in the process.

Let me know if we can help your team (or your athlete if you are a parent) in any way, thanks for reading!

Dedicated to your athlete’s success,

Coach Andrew

Andrew Simpson

Chief Vision Officer
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