There are a lot of current discussions in elite sport around helping athletes to ‘thrive’ as people (not just athletes). Sport is a great vehicle to develop skills that can help individuals progress in other areas of their lives (e.g. education, work, day to day life). this is just as relevant for young people as it is for elite athletes.

What are life skills?

Life skills can be defined as ranges of transferable skills that are needed by everyone to help them thrive (Gould and Carson, 2008). It is life skills that allow your child to be adaptive and display positive behaviour, enabling them to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. These skills are important for healthy development and preparing your child for the future. They enable them to succeed in the environment in which we live.

How do children learn life skills?

It is often not the sport per se that teaches life skills (as these could be learnt through other hobbies), but it is the sport experience that enables a young person to transfer what they learn in one environment and transfer in to other areas of their life, such as school, at home, and even in the workplace as they get older.

Sport can help facilitate many life skills such as:

  • Leadership
  • Goal setting
  • Communication
  • Social skills
  • Problem solving & decision-making
  • Time management
  • Emotional skills
  • Teamwork

Often when a child is involved in a sport environment the focus of coaches and parents can be the development of sport specific skills, the technical, tactical and physical elements of the sport and how they can get the young person to the next level. But think about your own work environment or experiences in education and sport…how much of it relies on the softer skills that would be classed as social skills, life skills or psychological skills? How do you ensure that the young person you are coaching, or your child develops these skills as well as the sport specific skills?

Are they developing life skills?

Life skills can be enhanced through a coach or parents’ motivation and in some cases can be facilitated by both influencers in a young person’s support network. For example, talking to a young person in an effective manner about their sporting experiences and identifying not just areas of improvement, but by also helping them reflect on the positives and setting goals to progress, will help your child excel in the ‘softer skills’. Ensuring they develop positive life skills and most importantly enjoy their time in sport when the physical, technical or tactical improvements are taking longer than planned.

The 5cs (Harwood 2008, Harwood, Baker and Anderson, 2015)

Harwood and colleagues have carried out huge amounts of work focusing on nurturing the foundations of psychological performance and life skills in youth sport. As a result of this they outline the 5cs which we have pulled together here from Harwood’s video for parents in sport week (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5UfNkzSS_w)

  • Commitment – The health of a child’s motivation
    • Consistently high work ethic
    • Approach and embrace challenges
    • Take setbacks as learning opportunities
    • Value self-improvements through reflective abilities that enhance self-awareness
  • Communication – The quality of a child’s interpersonal skills
    • Value of giving and receiving support
    • Connect respectfully and build relationships
    • Share and seek information
    • Superb H.E.L.P.A. (Help, Encourage, Listen, Praise, Acknowledge)
  • Concentration – The ability to focus and control attention
    • Awareness of where the ‘head’ and the ‘eyes’ should be – pre, during, post-match
    • Attending to cues, objects or people that are task relevant at the time
    • Staying ‘on task’ in the midst of distractions
    • Refocusing after mistakes and when tired / fatigued
  • Control – understanding and managing emotions
    • Awareness of emotions and how they affect performance
    • Use strategies (e.g. imagery, self-talk, breathing) that help create an optimal physical, mental and emotional state
    • Compose themselves under pressure
    • Sense emotions in others and act accordingly
  • Confidence – The quality of a child’s self-belief
    • Maintain a positive, physical presence and body language
    • ‘No excuses’ mentality
    • Stay engaged, involved and available
    • Draw from the well of mini-personal accomplishments and self-improvements

Final Thoughts…

Many young people are striving for high performance in the sport environment, but they don’t always think about the softer skills that we mentioned before such as Harwood’s 5Cs to aid their personal development and performance improvements.

  • When you are next talking to a young person involved in sport why not ask about the skills that they have learnt from being in that environment that link to Harwood’s 5cs. Do they know how these skills could transfer into other areas of their lives?

Written by Rebecca Chidley

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