Athletes, Coaching, Skill Development, Uncategorized

An Approach to the Struggling Student: Coaching the Challenged Athlete

coach with athlete

The objective of the coach is to train their athletes to improve their abilities and performance level. For many coaches, and programs, this objective becomes extreme. It becomes an objective to not just improve the athlete but to create champions. But what about the athlete who doesn’t have what it takes to succeed in the sport? Are they tossed aside – forgotten, humiliated? This discussion will focus on training and developing the hopeful and challenged athlete.

All coaches have experienced the student who is very motivated and has a lot of determination, but unfortunately, struggles with learning even the most basic elements. Every person is built differently both physically and mentally. Many sports dictate what type of person is made to succeed in that sport. For example, to excel as a basketball player, the person will usually need to be tall; to excel in gymnastics, the person usually will be smaller and lighter. There are always exceptions to this dynamic but true in most cases. Thus, genetics play a major role in how successful one may be at sports.

The challenge many programs have is how to handle those students that will not progress to the point of becoming a competitive athlete. This is a sensitive issue and should be recognized so as not to damage a student’s confidence and self-esteem. Although in many cases, it is the parent who is pushing the issue of success without realizing the limitations their child may have. In these cases, parents will leave and explore other gym programs in an attempt to find the miracle program that will develop their child.


Many of these situations are students in recreational class programs (Programs for the Rec Student). All young athletes aspire to be champions one day. They have their own dreams of wanting to be just like their idols. I have had students state how they want to be in the Olympics someday – and they are serious!! And the coach should never tell the child that this is most likely an impossibility. No matter how awkward a student may be, they should never be treated any differently from the other students (Coaching: Lets Be Positive).

There will usually be a point in time when the student will realize their true potential. When they see some of their classmates moving up to higher levels, they wonder why they cannot move up as well. This is where the coaches need to communicate to the student and parent, in as positive manner as possible, that there are skill requirements that must be met to move to the next level. They need to be told what skills need to be accomplished and what they can do to meet those goals.

We want every participant to feel good about their sport experience. Even though a small percentage of athletes ever reach a highly competitive level, the skills and training they acquired will benefit them in other activities they choose to participate in.

As a gymnastics and tumbling coach, I have many students participate in our class program with aspirations to become great at the sport. All students are treated the same and follow the same curriculum of the other students at their same level. For the students that are struggling, the parent will usually approach me and ask to discuss their child’s progress. This is a great opportunity to explain the dynamics of the sport and the challenges facing the student (Coaching the Parents).


We want every child to have a great experience with their participation. It is important that children have hopes and dreams and set high goals for themselves. We should always support and encourage this attitude. It’s not all about winning or losing or becoming a champion. It is participation that is important to recognize. Every student should be regarded special and treated like a champion!!


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