9 Tips for Working with Teens


“I love coaching moody teenagers!” said no one ever.

Our adolescent athletes can be challenging, that is for sure. One minute they are perfectly normal, the next minute they are sullen, cranky or just in tears.

Come to think of it, they are like giant two year olds…who drive…

That said, I actually like teenagers. Having raised four of my own and worked with hundreds of others, I have great empathy for the challenges of growing up.

Like most things in life, working with teens involves balance—the balance between respect and discipline.   It is in balancing these where the bulk of the problems in coaching teens crop up.

Here are a few of the mistakes I’ve made (so you don’t have to) while trying to find my balance:

  1. Not listening.   Teens want to be heard. So even when you don’t agree with what they have to say, give teens the opportunity to explain their thought process or feelings. Remember: they probably don’t agree with you either, but you want them to listen to you, so extend the same courtesy.
  2. Trying to have a rational conversation when they are emotional. Don’t do it. When teens are upset, their ability to use the rational part of their brain (which is already somewhat diminished because of their stage of development) is non-existent. Let the emotions calm down before rational conversational happens.
  3. Letting your emotions get the best of you. Teens can make us pretty frustrated. Again, we are not at our best to have a productive conversation when we are agitated. Let your emotions calm down before you try.
  4. Using threats or guilt instead of reasoning. It may be more expedient to manipulate the emotions of a teen, but since the long-term goal is to raise a moral adult, taking the time to explain the reasoning behind your rules is better for the child.
  5. Attacking them personally, instead of their behavior. They are not lazy, though they may be acting lazy. They are not disrespectful, though their tone may be so. Labeling them, instead of their behavior, not only attacks them and places them on the defensive; it is not good for their developing psyche or your relationship with them.
  6. Treating them too young or too old. Finding that sweet spot of “just right” is hard, but constantly seek to remember how old they are now. Your baby is growing up—let them have greater independence. But remember, while they look and act like an adult, they are not.
  7. Not helping them find their own balance. Teens lives are increasingly complicated as their world expands. They need assistance in figuring out how to manage their newly complex world of school, sports, friends, work and community.
  8. Doing too much for them. With power comes responsibility. If you fail to allow too much of one side without balancing it with the other, you are doing your teen a disservice. If your teen has the power to have access to use a car, he/she should have some responsibility to maintain that car. If he/she has the power to have a job, he/she should have the responsibility to deal with the employer directly.
  9. Losing your sense of humor. Sometimes just laugh. Trust me, it helps!

Coaching a teen has many challenges, but when they go off to college and you see the role you had in raising a happy, responsible and thriving young person it is worth it!