Follow the 5 C's when coaching youth sports

By Sarah McQuade | Posted 9/11/2017

Coaching has traditionally been seen as an activity whose only objective was to improve that player’s athletic skills ability. Coaches have mostly been concerned with developing the player’s physical, technical, tactical and mental ability, with while spending a very high percentage of our time spent on the physical and technical aspects.

Look at the image below and think about your own coaching. In which corner do you spend most of your time?


Sports, particularly at a younger age, have a much bigger role to play than just improving sport-specific skills. There are numerous opportunities to develop the child and young person’s personal and social skills through their participation in sport. Look again at the image and notice what is sitting at the heart of the four corners. The child’s personal and social skills are referred to as the 5 Cs (competence; confidence; connection; character and caring; and creativity).

Sport and coaching can be a tool to support positive youth development. Your role as the coach is critical. Consider each definition below and the top tips offered to help the coach develop the child’s capabilities.

1. Competence is about developing the player’s positive view of their own ability to do the right things at the right time.

Ensure you plan and use developmentally appropriate activities.

2. Confidence relies on having an internal sense of overall self-worth (‘I am OK’) and self-efficacy (‘I can do things’).

Emphasize and nurture personal improvement. Ensure individual players can achieve success they can relate to. 

Provide individual and/or group challenges that are realistic, and build resilience. Stretch and challenge players. Coax them out of their comfort zones. Create an environment that uses failure as a tool for learning and development. Value effort and persistence over outcomes and results. Emphasize the growth mindset.

3. Connection is related to the ability to build positive bonds with people and institutions (i.e. clubs, school), resulting in successful relationships with family, in school and in the community.

Ensure you provide players with the chance to work with others and be part of a group. Support players’ understanding of their own roles and highlight the importance of others. Use peer coaching as a tool to encourage players to work together, foster individual development and team cohesion.

4. Character and caring are based on exercising respect for societal and cultural rules, possessing standards for correct behaviors, a sense of right and wrong, and a sense of sympathy and empathy for others.

Help players learn why and how to respect their own bodies. Ensure players appreciate how different positions/activities contribute to the overall outcome. Ensure they know where and how their role fits in to the bigger picture, even if they spend most of their time on the bench. Use conditioned games to introduce and reinforce the concept of rules and sanctions.

5. Creativity is about players being able to find their own solutions to problems.

Use problem-solving, guided discovery and games to ensure children have to think for themselves and understand things in order to learn, rather than copying and repeating.

Now reflect on your own coaching. Consider how well you enable your players to develop their personal and social skills. Identify where you are doing a good job. Note key actions that will help you do an even better job. Ensure that you integrate these actions into your planning so you can grow these skills alongside the sport.

Sarah McQuade is an independent coach education consultant, owner and director of e.t.c coaching consultants and co-director with The Coach Learning Group. To learn more about accessing how-to coach skills workshops, click the Coaching Skills button at