Book Review – Coaching for the Love of the Game by Jennifer Etnier

I recently finished reading a really good book about youth sports coaching, Coaching for the Love of the Game – A Practical Guide for Working with Young Athletes by Dr. Jennifer Etnier, a professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The title and description of the book had me thinking that maybe I wouldn’t need to write my Hustle & Attitude Guide to Coaching Youth Sports book after all. 

The book covers general issues and topics in youth sports like the professionalization of youth sports, how free play has almost all but been eliminated, and early sports specialization.  Dr. Etnier also gets specific about coaching covering topics such as:  why kids play youth sports (and often end up quitting – see Etnier’s opinion piece in the New York Times);  the role of coach as teacher (look for an upcoming post where I describe why this is my favorite coaching role); dealing with parents; and whether you should coach boys and girls differently.  I found this last topic, and the research Dr. Etnier references throughout the chapter “Blue and Pink” very interesting.  Overall, I recommend reading the book as it is a well written and concise explanation of the importance of quality youth sports coaching and some information that can help improve youth sports coaching.


Here are few of the passages from the book that spoke to me:

  • “What matters is that the athletes have positive experiences, improve their skills, have fun, learn to work hard, and develop as individuals” (p.3). Kind of sounds like the Hustle & Attitude philosophy
  • When it comes to the question of the importance of winning…many recommend a focus on the process vice the outcome.  However, Dr. Etnier recommends that there is a balance and that the outcome isn’t necessarily winning as it is improvement.  She suggests “you must stay focused on both process and outcome to be successful!” and further
    • “If you are apathetic about the process, you will never obtain the outcome.”
    • “If you are apathetic about the outcome, you will have a hard time staying committed to the process.” (p.77)
    • In other words, if you don’t work hard (learn and practice the skills of the sport), you won’t get better (the outcome) — HUSTLE; and if you don’t want to improve, you won’t persist through the lows and challenges that it takes to get better — ATTITUDE.
  • In her chapter “Children Are Not Miniature Adults”, she provides a developmental readiness relative to chronological age table that is a useful guide for the first time coach to understand what he/she can realistically expect of the children based on their ages in terms of motor skills, cognitive development, social development, and capacity to distinguish between ability and effort.
  • “We need to compliment and reward effort, persistence, risk taking, and performance gains.  Everyone has the ability to improve, so if you can teach your athletes to focus on the enjoyment that comes from the activity itself, then this question of whether or not they are good enough becomes less relevant” (p.114).
  • After the game:  “The outcome of the event should have very little impact on what you say to your athletes” (p.140)…we measure ourselves against the goals we set for the team for the game and whether we demonstrated hustle and attitude!
  • “Organizations should provide curricula for their coaches to ensure that the youth sports experience is consistently positive, developmentally appropriate, and designed to advance the skills sets of the athletes” (p. 162)…, things like providing Hustle & Attitude coaching clinics!
  • Many other excellent ideas and discussion on participation trophies (I’ll be updating my previous post on the subject to incorporate Dr. Etnier’s discussion), setting expectations with parents, and playing time – BUT YOU’LL HAVE TO READ THE BOOK YOURSELF (I wouldn’t want some knucklehead blogger spilling all the cool parts of my book…presuming I ever actually finish the book!).

Although a very good resource for the coach looking to gain an understanding of the craft and the environment of youth sports, I think there’s still room for my philosophy and practical recommendations.  Dr. Etnier’s book is more academic in focus and light on the practical tips for first-time coaches than the book I plan to (eventually) finish writing.  Her book provides solid research-based justification for the Hustle & Attitude philosophy.

Published by Chad Millette

I am a father, a husband, a retired Air Force officer, and a dedicated youth recreational sports advocate.

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