Setting Goals and Expectations for Young Athletes




Young Athletes Goals


The Pygmalion Effect can either elevate a workers productivity or entirely undermine it. For instance, workers who receive continuous verbal praise for their efforts, while being supported by non-verbal means, will aspire and ascend to even more productivity. In contrast, if a worker receives less praise or even communication from management than their peers or co-workers, although nothing is being conveyed verbally, the worker feels as though they are under-appreciated and will see a lapse or decrease in productivity.


Livingston substantiated this point –


“If he (the manager) is unskilled, he leaves scars on the careers of the young men and women, cuts deeply into their self-esteem and distorts their image of themselves as human beings. But if he is skillful and has high expectations of his subordinates, their self-confidence will grow, their capabilities will develop and their productivity will be high. More often than he realizes, the manager is Pygmalion”


Now, apply these realities to the world of youth sports and coaching young athletes.


If inappropriate managerial skills, in the form of limited positive affirmations or feedback, can effect an adult to the degree that they will have "scars… cuts deeply into their self-esteem and distorts their image of themselves as human beings", what do you think happens to children under the pressure of inappropriate coaching?


In understanding the relevancy and practicality of the Pygmalion Effect, answer these questions for yourself:


Why doesn’t a "one size fits all" coaching approach work?


Do coaches treat all of their young athletes the same, or do they every so subtly play favorites?


What would happen to the ability and self-esteem of young athletes if their coaches and parents demonstrated great pride in their efforts and positively voiced a level of expectation, based entirely on the notion that the coach "knows" the young athlete could achieve this?


Should we make our young athletes more concerned about the results of a game or training session, or spend our energy with heaping positive praise and expectation on them because we know that they are capable of anything?


Here is a list of Pygmalion-based coaching strategies for you to use with your young athletes:


Provide athletes with the opportunity to experience increasingly challenging exercises or drills, but do so by making sure that they succeed at each respective level along with way. Many trainers and coaches prescribe exercises or drills that are too hard or difficult for their athletes. Regress the exercise so that your athletes can perform it competently before moving on. Not only is this sound from an athletic development standpoint, but also will do wonders for a child’s self-esteem.


Design training exercises that allow your athletes to create solutions to a proposed problem. For instance, create obstacle courses that require both athletic skill and cognitive reasoning, and have your athletes work as a unit to solve the equation. Enabling your athletes to work as a team through participation in successful projects increases individual self-efficacy and brings continuous productivity.


No matter how large your training group or team, purposefully spend a few moments every session or practice working with each member individually. This can be as quick as a 10 second pointer or 2 second high five and positive comment. Focus on positive commentary associated with what the athlete is doing right and not what they are doing wrong.


Ask your young athletes what they think. As it relates to a game strategy, exercise selection or set to rep ratio, get your athletes involved in the process of making decisions. Engaged athletes feel as though they are important, and there productivity will reflect this.


Always project the sincere feelings that you are here for them. You are not here to win the plastic trophy, to get a great testimonial from their parents or to have them become the newest member of your ‘400-pound squat club’. Young athletes get pulled in a variety of different directions and their productivity or success rate is almost always more important to other people than it is to themselves. You will find that the productivity of your athletes will grow dramatically when they feel as though you actually want to help them achieve there goals.


In conclusion, it is critical to make you aware of your own internal mental dialog and its relation to the way in which you relate to and coach your young athletes.


The following exercise (Tauber, 1997) is intended to make you more sensitive to the power of teacher or coach expectations.


Without feeling restricted or inhibited, think or write down the first descriptive thoughts that come to your mind when you think about the people outlined below. No one is judging you, so again, be brutally honest:


A teenager from a family that has strong and vocal political party ties


A significantly overweight teenage girl


A primary school student from an affluent family and is an only child


A middle school student whose two older siblings you had as athletes several years ago – each of whom was often a troublemaker


An Asian boy who is the son of a respected university math professor


Do you see how your initial beliefs may entirely dictate how you relate to or even coach these youths?


Do your initial beliefs and potential subsequent actions communicate a level of expectation to these youths that you may be unaware of?


Do these expectations serve to potentially restrict the athletic development or self-esteem acquisition of these youths?


The Art of Coaching is an incredibly intricate and important element within the youth sports and training world, and one that we must examine further.




strength training for young athletes



Speed Training, Strength Development, Flexibility Enhancement,


All critical cogs of the "training young athletes" wheel.


But COACHING is the missing link.


Your ability to communicate, understand and teach are the most crucial factors in your young athletes’ success.


What you don’t know is limiting your your athletes.




How about a resource that gives you a field-tested and success-proven system for teaching and coaching kids of varying ages, abilities and sports?



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4 Responses

  1. Evaristo Valls says:

    The Pigmalion Effect in real life.

    I´ve been an athlete for so many years, not very gifted but hard worker on my limitations, I broke my femur on a bike accident and two years later I´ve been Spain top ten in Decathlon for six years and 4th finisher in the 1986 Spanish Champs. After it I continue sports just for recreation and played so many specialities but athletics been always my first and only love. When I became 40 I set spanish records in Pentathlon and Decathlon for M40 and M45…and then my son started to be interested on athletics…so it was the time to dedicate to others and to try to teach what was learned for so many years on the tracks.
    He is so talented and natural disposition for athletics, with 13 years old he was on spanish top 20´s in several event, just playing, virtually, but following his dad, he was hit by a motorcycle and his ankle had 10 extra bones…Operation, recovery and after missing the indoor season, he started to compete again in April. In October, one year after the accident, he finished 6th in the Heptatlon Spanish Championship and after it, he told me “Dad, I´m going to win it next year…” A year later he won silver during the indoor season and the gold with 400 points advantage to 2nd in the outdoor season…and all this with less than three days of training/playing a week!!!

    And I have to tell you that it was just the normal course of things towards a natural goal, for me and for him, with no pressure and just playing with the different events.

    Now, he continues growing, physically and athletically, improving so nicely and starting to think about weight training and four days a week training for the next season…He´ll be on his youth second year and winning the Spanish Champs would be the normal goal again…with all the respect for the rest of competitors.

    Sorry for the brick!

  2. Brian,

    Interesting you should bring this up as this is something I have been reading and learning about in grad school.

    I do agree with you that Pygmalion effect is very true. However, if these expectations are not expressed to the athlete then they’ll never realize them.

    I think the key is, no matter what expectations we might have for our athletes, if they don’t know of our expectations, the likelihood of them achieving them are very slight. In fact it may do the opposite in knocking them down and discouraging them.

    I make a point to compliment each athlete during our group sessions. Whether using the sandwich model or just abundant praise for hard work, they know that I am watching and that I want them to succeed.

    I certainly am not perfect but I can really see that these kids feed off of our reactions to their achievements.

    In fact the other day one of my kids was telling me about how he had a shutout going into the 7th inning, and I had just given somebody else a hi-5. He asked where his was and I saw his point. I gave him a huge hi-5 and said I’d be out to watch his next start.

  3. Michael Mroczek says:

    I think the Pygmalian Effect has a more profound impact from our nonverbal and indirect messages we communicate with others, particularly with young athletes. That is not to say that direct messages don’t play a role but I believe the power comes from those subtle cues. All the direct praise in the world can be negated in moments due to an apparently simple act: rolling the eyes, a brief shake of the head, impatience when a child doesn’t understand something, or talking to another adult and giving the perception you’re talking about the child. I think a coach or trainer has to be very careful when communicating performance expectations such as “you can become the best player on the floor.” By saying that, who has ownership of that expectation: the coach or the athlete? What message does the athlete really hear? Does he hear: “Coach says I can be the best so I better not disappoint him;” or “To be the best I’d better quit other sports;” or perhaps “I don’t want to be the best, I just want to have fun.” Young athletes don’t have to hear the message–they have to feel it–and they will feel it through actions more so than words. They have to feel that the coach/trainer is there to help them do the best they can without fear of penalty if they make a mistake or they take longer to develop a skill or if they’re simply having fun. The young athlete has to feel they are valued not as an athlete but as a person.

  4. Roby Stahl says:


    Right on with the timing of this article. We are beginning a new season with our soccer club (over 1600 players) and I have copied this and sent it on to all the coaches with due compliments to both yourself and the IYCA web page and information (maybe a few more members?). It really is about the kids and not the sport! Keep up the good work!

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