Untapped potential: Teens as volunteer youth sports coaches

Untapped potential: Teens as volunteer youth sports coaches


By Kate Nematollahi

Director, NAYS Education Programs

Finding coaches season after season is challenging for many youth sports administrators. In fact, it is one of the top struggles we hear from NAYS Member Organizations.

But imagine if you had a group of passionate, optimistic, energic individuals ready to help, just waiting to be asked. An organization we heard from knows one untapped source of quality volunteers that shouldn't be overlooked: teen athletes.

Wendy Glover, director of the Leaders in Exercise and Athletics Program (LEAP) at Catholic Central High School in London, Ontario, has dedicated herself to developing teen athletes into leaders, or what she calls "athleaders."

Any youth sports organization can be inspired by what Wendy has learned over the years – that teens make phenomenal volunteer coaches.

Check out our conversation with her:

NAYS: What advice do you have for youth sports organizations that may want to get teens involved as assistant coaches?

WG: There is something really special about empowering teenagers and seeing younger athletes light up when they see them. 'Kids coaching kids' is really special. Young athletes are under the control of adults in everything they do, and they are very responsive to a young happy, energetic teen! Also, what an amazing example they provide to the younger athletes that look up to them. If younger athletes see teenagers volunteering, then they are more likely to do it themselves when they are older.


NAYS: How would you suggest that a youth sports organization go about setting up a partnership with a high school?

WG: A sports organization could set up a partnership with a local high school by contacting the Athletic Director. The Athletic Director would have a good idea of athletes in the school whom may have an interest in volunteering. Usually, teens like their first go at volunteering to be within a sport they are very comfortable with, or a low-risk activity like a house league. Putting a teen in a highly competitive environment with overzealous parents as a first option would likely not be best.


NAYS: Why do teenagers make good youth coaches?

WG: Teenagers make amazing youth coaches and leaders! They are so eager to learn and contribute. After years of feeling powerless in school and sports, I provide an opportunity for them to be empowered. I have learned that they do not need as much hand-holding as adults would think. They need some mentorship and guidance but have incredible energy, hope, and are often without the doubts of a mission that adults may bring to the table. They are not pessimistic.


NAYS: What is the LEAP Athleadership Program?

WG: The LEAP Athleadership program allows student athleaders in high school to learn how to contribute to their community through various aspects of health and sport. There are two streams a student may enroll in: health and wellness, or sports management. Within each stream there are many opportunities to apply learned concepts in our community. A lot of what we do involves both streams, for example: coaching. A young athlete is an excellent candidate to learn to coach. They usually are participating or have just exited competitive sport. They have recent experience to draw from and are eager to contribute and be part of changing the culture. A lot of athletes grieve after exiting sport, and I have found they are ecstatic to give back as coaches!

NAYS: How did LEAP get started?

WG: I started writing the program about 11 years ago. My children were 7 and 5 and I was disappointed in what I was seeing in the youth sports culture. I wanted to be a part of the solution and not complain about the problems I was witnessing in youth sports.

Additionally, I had transferred from teaching elementary and middle school aged physical education to secondary school physical education (equivalent of high school in the U.S.). I could see that teenagers wanted to lead and could reach many more people than one adult could. I thought of them as foot soldiers that could spread out across the province, country and even North America after graduating, to take what I wanted to show them and apply it somewhere in a positive way.

NAYS: How do adult coaches generally feel about having a teen as their assistant coach?

WG: Some coaches want to show the teens how great they are, and others are completely ecstatic that a teen is willing to help them. I prepare the teen coach for either scenario. There is always something to learn from every situation they are in. Once the coaches get used to the teen they are usually more than happy to allow them to facilitate practices and contribute. They are eager to contribute, so why not let them?

NAYS: What do the teens (Athleaders) say they enjoy about of the program?

WG: The teens enjoy the responsibility and the opportunity to try to lead. In almost all situations I partner them up. They have been trained to observe situations and see when supporting one another is needed. An example is if setting up a drill, one person gets the equipment or drill ready while the other is leading the current activity. The athleaders also enjoy the opportunity to try leading in many different environments to see what they enjoy. Some organize tournaments, write curriculum/lesson plans, volunteer at charity events, lead presentations to groups, etc. They are encouraged to try many aspects of leadership through their interests and develop their own individual skill sets that match their talents. I am always a text message away and have learned how to lead them as well. I have learned how to prepare them for situations and to be flexible. Many variables can change their plan, and experience. A message to them is that they have to be ready to adapt and that no one is perfect and that learning from experience has to happen. They have permission to make mistakes and debrief. A motto we use all the time is "how do I solve the problem?" Instead of complaining, which gets them nowhere, we focus on moving forward. This thinking allows them to take calculated risks.

NAYS: Share a favorite memory that captures the impact of the program.

WG: Recently, I had a student that has graduated complete her Master's degree in Positive Youth Development and now facilitates a KidsMove program in a different province. Also, we spearheaded the first Dance Marathon in Canada for our local children's hospital and in five years have raised over $140,000 for art, music, and recreation therapy for children in our community. Since we were the first school in Canada to try, in the last five years 50 schools across Canada have now started the same event raising money for their local children's hospital. They follow our model we created. Students that were involved in our first Dance Marathon now lead events at the universities they attend! This makes me very proud. We started that 'Miracle Movement' so the Athleaders would always remember that they are so fortunate to play sports, and that children in the hospital are not so fortunate.

That is the 'ripple effect' that I mentioned earlier. I knew that if I empowered a bunch of foot soldiers to go lead, it would have much greater results.

NAYS: Have your kids been involved with LEAP and how did it impact them?

WG: My children are in 12th and 10th grade, and yes, they are both in the program! They have witnessed it as they grew up and they also are certified coaches and have hundreds of accumulated hours in our community. They have learned that someone was always there to coach them, and it is their duty to give back in the same manner. They both have over 15 certifications that will serve them well as they transition from adolescence to adults.

They have benefited from the program in different ways because they are very different. My older son is extremely driven and really enjoys leading from the top, organizing practices and coaching. He also enjoys running tournaments and is a real "doer" and problem solver.

My younger son is more laid-back and charismatic. He enjoys dabbling in everything LEAP. Just this week he is a Greeter and live auction "Spotter" for Hockey Canada's Annual Gala of 1000 people. He has no issues chatting with NHL stars and coaches, Hockey Canada executive and local business leaders, and facilitating conversations to get people bidding on live auction items. He is extremely comfortable in front of large and small crowds and is encouraged to develop this skill set.

NAYS: Aside from coaching, what other ways could teens help a youth sports program?

WG: Teens in our program assist with tryouts, player assessments (yes, they do!) registration table, score keeping tournaments. food drives, charity/fundraising events, parent meetings, etc. If a sports program needs volunteers, then teens are a great asset in many areas.

NAYS: Tell us about you and your background.

WG: I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s as a multi-sport child and spent most of my time after school playing outside. In high school, I had the opportunity to play many sports and learned to give back to my community through working at the local YMCA. I rotated through about five to six sports in high school and club. I excelled in sports and was a provincial medalist in track but chose to play soccer in university, as I truly loved the sport more.

In university, I studied Kinesiology and Child Development. I was always fascinated by those two fields and how they work together. I then completed my teaching degree in K-12 Physical Education. My interest in health, wellness, sports, and children is well met through my profession now. I have taught K-12 physical education for 20 years and have coached gymnastics, soccer, basketball, volleyball, badminton and track in field in various club and school settings.

Reminder: For insurance purposes, a NAYS Coach 16-17 years of age must be coaching under the supervision of a NAYS Coach 18 years of age or older. NAYS membership is not available for coaches under the age of 16.

Coaching Teens Volunteers Practice

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