When Psychologists Teach Coaches How to Coach, Young Athletes Feel Better and Play Longer

A scientifically developed and evaluated training program shows youth sports coaches how to create positive and supportive experiences for their young athletes.


Participating in youth sports is both valued by our culture and beneficial to children's health. But the quality of a child's experience in a sports program largely depends on the environment created by the coach. Psychologists Ronald Smith and Frank Smoll designed the Coach Effectiveness Training program (CET) to instruct youth sports coaches on the finer points of team-building, esteem-nurturing, and example-setting. Based on cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, CET teaches coaches to be aware of their behaviors, to understand how their behaviors are perceived by their young athletes, and to foresee the impacts of their behaviors. CET also instills in coaches a commitment to improving children's skills and rewarding their efforts, replacing the "winning is everything" philosophy that is common in sports.

In one of their many studies, Smith and Smoll trained Little League Baseball coaches in the philosophy and methods of CET. After their training, these coaches were evaluated more positively by their players than were coaches who did not receive the CET training. CET-trained coaches' athletes also enjoyed playing for their coaches more and thought that their teammates got along better than did athletes of non-trained coaches. Impressively, the self-esteem of trained coaches' athletes increased over the course of one year, with low self-esteem athletes showing the most improvement. Subsequent research with other sports teams has shown that athletes under the leadership of CET-trained coaches are also less anxious and less likely to drop out of their sports program than are athletes of non-trained coaches.


With childhood obesity on the rise and childhood participation in sports dropping off, getting and keeping kids involved in sports is becoming ever more important. Smith and Smoll's CET program helps coaches make sports personally fulfilling for young athletes. The athletes of CET-trained coaches also keep up their sports habits longer than do athletes of non-trained coaches.

Practical Application

In an article evaluating coaching programs, CET was called the "most convincingly documented program in theory and research-proven effectiveness." More than 18,000 coaches in the US, Canada, and Israel have been trained in CET, and an estimated 1.5 million children have benefited from the healthy psychological environment that trained coaches create. These coaches and athletes hail from a variety of organizations, including Little League Baseball, Pony Baseball, the U.S. Soccer Federation, U.S. Swimming, the U.S. Tennis Association, Boys' and Girls' Clubs, Catholic Youth Organizations, YMCA, community recreation departments, and public school districts. Recently, adults on teams, in boardrooms, and even in two major league baseball organizations have reaped the benefits of CET-trained coaches, instructors, and managers.

Cited Research

Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Hunt, E. B. (1977). A system for the behavioral assessment of athletic coaches. Research Quarterly, 48, 401-407.

Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Curtis, B. (1979). Coach effectiveness training: A cognitive behavioral approach to enhancing relationship skills in youth sport coaches. Journal of Sport Psychology, 1, 59-75.

American Psychological Association, May 29, 2003