TrueSport Resources

 Strengthening an Athlete's Decision-Making Skills

Strengthening an Athlete's Decision-Making Skills

In youth sports

Whether it’s making a decision about how to properly prepare for a competition, practice a recovery plan, or stay away from shortcuts, good decision-making, although challenging to teach, is a skill that is critical to an athlete’s success.

According to the Decision Education Foundation (DEF), which seeks to empower youth with effective decision-making skills through curriculum and courses in decision quality, teaching teenagers how to decide is more effective than teaching them what to decide. For example, the popular D.A.R.E. campaign that was implemented in schools nationwide simply told adolescents about the negative effects of drugs and had adolescents sign a pledge to say no to drugs, but it didn’t have a significant effect on actually preventing youth from illicit drug use according to a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Chris Spetzler, DEF Executive Director, recommends helping students understand how to make better decisions as the first step to “increasing their thoughtfulness when engaging their values, creativity, and critical thinking in making and following through on their personal choices.”

As a coach, it’s important to develop an understanding of the decision-making process, as this will better equip you to help shape the way your athletes approach decisions on the field and throughout their lives. DEF explains that there are six elements that must be considered in order to reach a quality decision, including helpful frame, clear values, creative alternatives, useful information, sound reasoning, and commitment to follow through.

Keeping in mind these six foundational elements of a good decision, here are five DEF exercises we’ve tailored for coaches to use at practice with their team to help strengthen an athlete’s decision-making skills:
Explain Decisions You’ve Made

Sharing a personal decision-making story of your own can help you build trust with your team, make you more relatable, and allow you to break down the decision-making process with them. Being able to pull from your experience and explain the rationale behind the choices you’ve made will help illustrate the six elements of good decision-making for your team.
Case Studies from Sports

Whether it’s deciding who should take the final shot of a game or how to deal the temptation of performance-enhancing drugs, sports come with a lot of decision-making opportunities.
Walking through a sports story that involves decision making is a great way to start the discussion on the topic with your team. Using case studies of athletes who have made poor choices in the past provides your team with the opportunity to dive deep and analyze the situation, reasoning, and outcome of a real decision with real consequences.
Interactive Role Play Activities

Inviting your team to participate in simulated decision-making scenarios allows them to critically think and practice the elements of good decisions in real-time.
Have your athletes act out relevant situations, such as deciding how to react to a teammate who consumes energy drinks before practice, to help them evaluate their values and learn how to make more informed decisions.
Group Projects

Breaking your athletes into groups and giving them a sport-related challenge to work through is another way you can give them hands-on decision-making experience, while also encouraging them to consider the values and logic of their teammates.
Encourage your groups to share their outcomes and explain how they reached their final decision.

Many coaches are familiar with the practice of having athletes visualize skills or upcoming games, but you can also apply this technique to your athlete’s decision-making.
For example, practice setting a goal with your athlete and walk through the decisions they would make to reach that goal. Encourage them to visualize their future after achieving their goal and evaluate the steps they needed to take to get there. Would they be proud of the decisions they made to achieve their goal?
Creating a space that encourages the development of an essential life skill like decision-making should be a top priority for the coaches of youth athletes. Continue to encourage your team to evaluate their decisions and take ownership over their actions so they can be proud of the paths they choose.
TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 7 Reasons Why You Should Invest in Multi-Sport Camps

7 Reasons to Invest in Multi-Sport Camps 

Consider a multi-sport summer camp rather than a sport-specific one

“Anything we can do to give kids diversity in physical and physiological ways is a win,” says Steve Smith, PhD. Smith is a professor of clinical psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara and focuses on working with young athletes and parents, especially around topics like early specialization in sport. Smith sees multi-sport camps as a great way for young athletes to experience other sports and develop new skills without the pressure of playing for new teams or committing more time during already-packed seasons.

“A multi-sport camp is ideal for helping young athletes avoid early specialization,” says Smith. While tacking on extra sports during the year might be stressful for an athlete and difficult to handle from a time management perspective, a multi-sport camp allows young athletes to explore new sports without adding to an already-busy schedule. 

Here are seven more reasons why you should invest in a multi-sport camp. 

Promote Chances for New Teamwork and Friendships

When young athletes are involved in one sport, they tend to end up with a tight-knit group of friends from that one team. While it’s great to have close friendships, young athletes should be branching out, meeting new people, and learning to work with new teammates. In college, and in life, athletes aren’t always going to be surrounded by teammates they’ve known since kindergarten, so developing social skills is key to long-term success. 

“I work with a lot of collegiate athletes now, and I notice that they travel, practice, and live with their teammates — and if you’re not able to become friendly with those new teammates, you’re going to have a really hard time,” says Smith. “By only knowing one set of teammates, you lose out on interpersonal skills,” he adds. 

It’s important that kids develop their ability to interact with different types of people. A multi-sport camp offers a diverse group of athletes from different disciplines, locations, and backgrounds. Young athletes will have the chance to get outside their comfort zone by participating in a multi-sport camp.  

Learn to Accept Loss and Failure 

In the world of sport, being able to lose is just as important as being able to win when it comes to longevity. If your young athlete has been naturally talented and successful from a young age, it might be beneficial for him or her to experience not being the best on the field. 

“We learn more from failures than we do from wins,” says Smith. "Giving kids the opportunity to be in an environment where they aren’t the best, where they have to step outside of their comfort zone, that’s what teaches them about life and those important life skills.”  

Learn New Skills 

Enrolling athletes in a multi-sport camp can also help them develop in a more well-rounded way. Skills often blend from one game to another: footwork from soccer agility practice may be helpful on the football field and throwing a baseball may make a shot-putter tweak his stance. 

Youth athletes exposed to multiple sports have been shown to be more consistent performers, experience fewer injuries, and stay in sport longer than early-specializers. In a study of 700 professional baseball players, Smith even found that late specializing baseball players were "more likely to get college scholarships and that they consistently practiced more than early specializers.”  

Remember How to Simply Play

"Competition is hard, and it’s hard to be in that place all the time. Young athletes now don’t have a lot of time to just simply play, and camps can offer that,” says Smith. “Taking away the competition and giving a kid an opportunity to just be playful and not results-focused is a huge win.” 

A multi-sport camp can offer young athletes a chance to rediscover the joy of playing, not for a result, just for the sheer fun of running, jumping, throwing and dancing. 

Helps Athletes Get Over Injury

“There’s a benefit to having a horizontal kid—one who can run fast but also play basketball and paint and play an instrument. You shouldn’t be pinning hopes and dreams on one thing. When athletes do that and get injured, it can be devastating,” says Smith. 

A multi-sport camp can offer opportunities for cross-training so that your young athlete can continue to build skills and fitness without pushing an injury. Be sure to talk to a doctor before picking a camp in this case, as certain sports may be better for specific injuries than others.

Find a New Talent or Passion 

Discovering new passions is a great thing for a young athlete. “If a kid specializes early, it increases the likelihood that they’ll get injured or burned out and increases the likelihood of them being sedentary as adults,” says Smith. "That’s not what we want for our kids.” 

Helping children find sports that they can play for life is just as important as winning a championship. Many young athletes won’t go on to be professionals, but they can go on to lead happy, active lives, and finding hobbies outside of that one focus can help them achieve that goal.

Learn Independence

No matter how close you are with your young athlete, it’s important that they get some time outside of your sphere of influence to discover what they are truly passionate about. “You need to let your child figure out who they are, and to do that, you need to separate yourself from the equation,” says Smith. "Letting a child get away from the pressure can be a great thing for them."


Parents and kids are often told that an athlete has to do one sport, do it early, and do it year-round. But as Smith and the research indicate, that’s not always for the best. So this summer, try enrolling your young athlete in a multi-sport camp. 

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 5 Reasons Why Your Athletes Need a Hydration Plan

5 Reasons Why Your Athletes Need a Hydration Plan

How can you help an athlete figure out the right hydration plan for themselves? 

There’s no way to know exactly how much water each of us needs to consume daily. With varying levels of activity, finding the right balance of fluid intake for young athletes can seem like a guessing game. But, it’s important to note that without a proper hydration plan, there are potential dangers from both dehydration and the lesser known over-hydration that can be a matter of life and death.

Dr. Mitchell Rosner, a nephrologist with a clinical focus on fluid and electrolyte disorders, acute kidney injury, and polycystic kidney disease (PKD), has dedicated much of his work at the University of Virginia to studying the potentially fatal impacts of over-hydration in young athletes. According to Rosner, over-hydration is one of the most preventable and least understood problems that coaches face. 

Many of us have spent most of our lives being told to make sure to drink more fluids, but several deaths in marathon races and at football practices due to over-hydration prove that you can get too much of a good thing. 

As we approach these hot summer months, it’s important to know how to spot the symptoms of over-hydration and how to help your athletes develop a plan to stay balanced with their hydration needs on and off the field. 

1. Effects and Symptoms of Over-Hydration

Over-hydration can lead to hyponatremia, meaning too much water is consumed and an athlete’s electrolyte balance is dangerously diluted. “People will feel bloated or have a bit of a headache or some nausea, but unfortunately, those are the same symptoms of dehydration,” says Rosner. 

"But if you’ve been drinking a lot, you should be able to know that you should stop drinking. Even then, it may be too late—your stomach is already full of water. The best thing to do is to try to avoid getting there,” Rosner adds. And, if an athlete is experiencing these symptoms or displaying signs of confusion, you should seek medical attention immediately.

2. Dehydration v. Over-Hydration

“Dehydration in youth sports is relatively mild and rarely life-threatening, but water overload is absolutely life-threatening,” says Rosner. While you should be urging your athletes to stay properly hydrated throughout the day, you shouldn’t focus on filling them with gallons of water on game day. A few sips of water during most games or practices is usually all an athlete will need, adds Rosner. Remind athletes to sip when thirsty, but don’t force them to consume a specific volume of water.  

3. How to Gauge Hydration Needs

“If you just use thirst as a guide, that’s the optimal way to gauge how much you need,” says Rosner. “Thirst is an innate feeling, and rarely would someone not know that they’re thirsty.” 

"There’s a myth that if you’re feeling thirsty, it’s too late and you’re already too dehydrated — but that’s not the case,” Rosner adds, and studies support this assertion. “It’s rare a young athlete would ever get dehydrated in a baseball game or at cross-country practice,” he says.  

4. How You Can Help an Athlete Make a Plan

The best way to develop that plan, Rosner says, is by using the scale as a guide. “A good rule of thumb is that if you’re gaining weight during an athletic activity, you’re drinking too much. You shouldn’t lose more than a few percent of your body weight — that indicates dehydration — but losing a little weight during exercise is fine. You can replace that after activity." 

Weigh your athlete before and after a few practices to get a sense of how much weight they lose during activity. Ask how they feel and note both their weight and feelings. Keep a record, and eventually, patterns will emerge. 

You’ll be able to estimate how much your athlete should be drinking during practices and in competition. "If you feel lightheaded and you dropped weight, you need to drink more,” says Rosner. "If you’re feeling bloated, you’re probably drinking too much.”

5. Teach Self-Advocacy

Coaches may push fluids on athletes during a hot game or match, but each athlete needs to be able to think for him or herself. “That’s very important — hydration is so individual, and everyone has different needs,” says Rosner. 

If a coach is pushing athletes to drink a lot, it can be lethal. “There are cases of high school athletes following coaches' recommendations who died from over-hydration. Every year, we see fatalities, and the sad thing is, it’s completely preventable,” he adds. 

Make sure your athlete knows that they can say no to chugging a water bottle after running a lap and can ask for a drink break if thirsty. Your athlete should feel in control of their hydration plan — that’s the key to developing an athlete who’s successful in the long-term. 


Rosner wants coaches to remember that “there’s no calculation that’s going to be perfect: people sweat at different levels, temperatures impact how much you sweat, how hard you work impacts how much you need to drink to replenish,”

Finding an optimal hydration plan that works for each athlete will take a little bit of trial and error, but making sure your athletes are staying properly hydrated will not only help them perform at their best, but it will also ensure the safety of your team throughout the sport season.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 The Career Impact of Playing Youth Sports

The Career Impact of Playing Youth Sports

In youth sports

As parents, we all like to think we’re steering our children toward activities and opportunities that will help them lead happy, productive, and fulfilling lives. We encourage them to work hard, have integrity, take risks, show gratitude, be respectful, etc. But at some point, deep down, every parent realizes there are no guarantees. There’s no formula that ensures success, but there are definitely behaviors, activities, and opportunities that increase the chances your child will become a successful, ethical, and happy adult. According to recent research, participation in youth sports is one them.

A 2014 study by Kniffin, Wansink, and Shimizu examined how participation in high school sports correlated with a person’s behaviors and accomplishments later in life. Here are some of their findings:

Hiring Managers Preferentially Hire Student Athletes

Parents often look to youth sports to help their children develop leadership skills, self-confidence, and self-respect. According to the research from Kniffin and his colleagues, managers looking to hire people for entry-level jobs have the expectation former student athletes possess those skills and traits, which gives them a competitive advantage. They even looked at whether this advantage was specifically associated with sports, or whether participation in any organized activity provided the same advantage. Compared to former band and yearbook members, former student athletes were perceived by managers to have greater leadership skills, self-confidence, and self-respect.

Former Student Athletes Advance Faster

Certain lessons learned through sports help young workers advance in their careers. Youth sports expose kids to organizational leaders (coaches) early on, which research has shown to be an important component of learning leadership skills. Team sports also “reward group-level achievements and appear to facilitate the enforcement of group-serving behavior.” In other words, former student athletes are better team players in a career setting, and grow to become leaders 
who strive for the success of the team.

Former Student Athletes Have Higher Wages at 30 years old

Supporting prior research, a 2010 study by Betsey Stevenson showed participation in high school sports had a positive effect on the amount of education people attained, the likelihood of being employed as an adult, and the wages they earned. Stevenson’s work focused on the effect of Title IX on the success of women in the workforce, and two results of particular note were that 1) Higher wages only correlated with participation in high school sports, and not any other extracurricular activities, and 2) Title IX led to a substantial increase in the percentage of women who subsequently pursued traditionally male-dominated, higher-wage careers.

Former Student Athletes Are More Likely to Give Back

Another component of the study by Knifflin and his colleagues examined philanthropic behaviors of former student athletes 60 years after high school. They found that older men who participated in volunteer work or donated money to charitable causes were more likely to have participated in high school sports, and particularly, exhibited leadership traits in high school sports.

Overall, former student athletes earned more money, advanced to more senior career positions, and were more likely than non-athletes to volunteer and donate money as older adults.

It is important to note, the researchers referenced in this article acknowledged they could only show correlation, and not causation. They couldn’t answer whether the people who earned more, advanced further, and were more philanthropic achieved those outcomes because they participated in sport or if the traits that helped them succeed later in life also drew them to participate in sport in the first place.

Either way, participating in high school sports is a winning proposition!

Kniffin, Kevin M., et al. “Sports at Work.” Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 2014, pp. 217–230., doi:10.1177/1548051814538099.
Stevenson, Betsey. “Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports.” 2010, doi:10.3386/w15728.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 Take A Lap

Take A Lap

Alternatives to Exercise as Punishment

For generations, using exercise as punishment in youth sports was the norm. The practice has even been romanticized, like in the movie Miracle where hockey players are forced to skate seemingly endless ‘suicide’ drills after a bad loss.

“Drop and give me 20.”

“Take a lap.”

“The losers of this drill have to do five extra sprints at the end of practice.”

But in a time when people already have enough trouble getting exercise, it’s a disservice to use exercise as punishment, which paints it as something negative instead of something that should be enjoyed.

In fact, using exercise as a disciplinary tool is considered corporal punishment and thereby illegal in more than half of U.S. states, several of which also have laws against withholding exercise (e.g., keeping kids from recess). The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) has also made an official statement shunning the practice.  

At the end of the day, youth athletes are still kids. So, if taking more laps at the end of practice shouldn’t be used as punishment, what can be done to hold athletes accountable?
Alternative 1: Verbal Warning

Even if an athlete has a penchant for acting independently from the team, sometimes being called out in front of peers can be enough to create a positive behavior change.

Be wary, however, that drawing attention to misbehavior can feel like a reward to some kids, so consider carefully whether a one-on-one approach would be more effective than addressing them in front of the entire group.
Alternative 2: Academic and Non-Traditional Punishments

If coaching a school-sponsored team, research if school-related punishments, such as before or after school detention, can be handed out to youth athletes that violate their team or sport rules. In addition to being an effective punishment any student-athlete would want to avoid, it might further underscore the importance of acting in a mature manner in organized settings.

Instead of exercise as punishment, the United Kingdom’s education secretary once explained the value of alternate and equally undesirable punishments, such as “writing lines, picking up litter in playgrounds, weeding, tidying classrooms and removing graffiti,” that would not blacken an athlete’s view of exercise.

For athletes on non-school teams, this idea could transpose into cleaning up the playing field after practice, or writing an essay about their role on the team or why it’s important to keep a cool-head.

Alternative 3: Brief Removal

If an athlete’s transgression resulted from frustrations about a call or heated moment during a game, it’s the coach’s responsibility to step in and pull that player from the game for as long as it takes. Depending on their role on the team, the punishment might come with the added of weight of having to watch their teammates struggle without them.  

Not allowing them to re-enter until they have regained their composure also communicates that their behavior has no place in sports, no matter how frustrating the context. Explain that it’s the coach’s job to discuss issues with the referee or to point out dangerous play, not theirs.  
Alternative 4: League Action

If a misbehaving player’s infraction is something that is endangering other players, it may be time to have the league or conference get involved. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, the league might bar the player from playing for a game or more.

Often just making athletes aware that removal is a possibility, whether at the beginning of the season or when they start to act out, is enough to elicit a positive behavior change.
Alternative 5: Establish Expectations

The need for any disciplinary action can possibly be avoided before the season begins by firmly establishing behavioral expectations, such as always shaking opponent’s hands after the game, participating to the best of one’s abilities in drills, and never shouting at a ref. It’s also important to clearly define the punishment for such behavior.

Setting goals that all athletes and the team feel strongly about can also reinforce positive behavior.
In the end, it’s about creating an environment that athletes want to support and finding ways to create behavior change in a positive way.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.