Written by Miika Niemelä (Icehearts), Stina Kuhlefelt (Icehearts), Anita Ahlstrand (Metropolia UAS) and Pekka Anttila (Metropolia UAS) / Finland

© Juhani Järvenpää

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What is a young athlete’s joy made of? What does it take a young athlete to transcend themselves, believe in their own abilities, and be able to shine with their own strengths? Am I an adult that a young athlete finds easy to approach? This blog will unveil the polished diamonds of Icehearts, which make the coach an enabler.

Every young athlete has the right to be seen and heard, in every training session. The coach has a big responsibility to consider how he or she meets each athlete, what issues he or she brings out and how he or she hears and goes through the issues with the athletes. At its best, training gives everyone, both athletes and coaches, the opportunity to work together, using their own strengths and resources.

„The most important thing as a coach, in my opinion, is to meet the child, find the child’s goals for the hobby, and understand the starting points and the reasons why the child has come for the hobby.“

“The most important element is that the child is always welcome to practice and play. When you are welcome, you also do not want to be away!”

„We need to understand the needs of each age.“

Thoughts of Icehearts coaches

How to be an approachable coach for young athletes?

One of the coach’s key tasks is to find a connection to every athlete. When one youngster must be constantly encouraged to join, another must be calmed down. A coach with sensitiveness understands what is going on in the situation, notices the youngster’s reactions and knows how to respond.

An approachable coach is a safe adult who helps the young athletes to bring out the best of themselves as well as enjoy the sporting activities. The coach’s actions or omissions affect the young athlete and his or her perceptions of himself or herself.

In the beginning, many athletes have a feeling that they are not good enough. „I can’t“ or „not interested“ may mean they do not dare to try. In the beginning, it is a good idea to try different sports, and to build up team spirit and confidence.

“We are a loud and colorful team – we are noticed in the sports halls. We come in different colors and sizes, speak many different languages, and express our feelings by dancing and singing. However, the brightest feature we are known for is the real joy! We rejoice in successes, being together, and sometimes weird mistakes.”

“We don’t bark, bully, or get angry about mistakes. At a moment of failure, there is always a safe adult who has known every member of the team for many years. He knows how these young people respond to frustration, pressure, or trouble with friendships.”

“You can even see it when a young athlete first overcomes his fears, tries and succeeds. That growth and the increase in self-confidence are visible.”

Checklist for an enabling coach

♦ I value young athletes and notice their different strengths, even on bad days

♦ I praise them and emphasise about their strengths

♦ I am interested in youngsters’ life; what inspires them, do they have friends, how is it in school, what about home and leisure time?

♦ I give young people space and time in training sessions to also talk about other issues that are important to them

♦ I regularly ask them for their opinions, consider their wishes and we then make decisions together

♦ I understand that a youngster does not intentionally behave badly, but that there is often a fear of failure or pressure to perform behind the disturbing behavior or lack of motivation

♦ I can apologize for my mistakes and learn from them

♦ I am the safe adult in challenging situations; I stay calm and positive, I emphasize the issues

How to act without controlling too much?

The coach’s behaviour and attitude influence often the athlete’s desire to join the training sessions. Athletes’ confidence and motivation are created when the coach discusses, asks and negotiates with the youngsters. On the other hand, over-controlling and limiting behaviour, highlighting the mistakes or using force will increase the young athlete’s anxiety, insecurity and fear.

The best way to ensure balanced development and motivation is to use power wisely and with respect for the youngsters. In doing so, the coach encourages the athlete to express his or her opinions, respects them as themselves and believes in their abilities. This supports the young athlete’s courage to be spontaneous and able to cooperate with others. Through enabling, the coach also increases the young person’s confidence in their own abilities, autonomy, and sense of appreciation. This creates a desire to be part of the team.

The coach is the enabler when she or he is a safe adult, not a „nice friend“. An overly permissive atmosphere in training sessions or the fact that the coach demands nothing from the athletes, will add to the athletes‘ insecurity. In addition, in an overly permissive atmosphere, young athletes are not directed to understand the consequences of their actions for themselves or others.

In addition, the coach is always an example for his young athletes. She or he gives an example of acceptable behavior, that is why it is important to pay attention to how and what he says or leaves unsaid at that moment.

About Icehearts:

In Icehearts we don’t just stare at the results. The goal is to provide young people with meaningful activities in their spare time, encourage them to exercise and make them feel part of the team, while not forgetting the joy of exercise and a healthy lifestyle. However, the focus is on the human being and lasting relationships. The ability of a coach to see everyone, to know and support him / her at different stages of life, through team sports, is our thing!


Stina Kuhlefelt. Working in Icehearts as a project coordinator, focus on bilingual matters and sports on a grassroot level, especially girls competing in floorball. Stina is very keen on creative learning, in both language learning and sports. Getting her batteries recharged by yoga or some outdoor activities.

Miika Niemelä, works as a team mentor and responsible for Icehearts intern education and recruitment. He is very social and loves to get to know new people sharing the same ideas and thoughts about sports, mindfulness and everything in between. He plays hockey as a goalie, thinking he is a forgotten star;)

Pekka works as a senior lecturer at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and is interested in applying the researched knowledge to practical activities. Pekka is motivated by the development and implementation of new innovations and operating models through collaboration. He takes care of his own wellbeing by mountain biking and running.

Anita works as a senior lecturer at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and is the project coordinator for the KidMove project. Anita enjoys meeting new people, learning new things, and taking long walks in the woods. She is driven by endless curiosity, creative work and positive pedagogy.


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