Early childhood educators' perceptions of effective coaching in preschooler sport: Delivery "in the right environment, guided by the right people"


As it is increasingly common for children to begin organized sport before age 6 (ParticipACTION, 2018), researchers have begun to examine the popularity of and empirical support for such programs (e.g., Bryant et al., 2021; Calero et al., 2018). While recent work examined effective coaching practices from the perspective of vested stakeholders (i.e., coaches, parents) (Harlow & Fraser-Thomas, 2019), little consideration has been given to the perspectives of early childhood educators (ECEs), who have expertise in young children's physical, emotional, and social development and well-being (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016). The purpose of this study was to explore ECEs' perceptions of effective coaching practices, within the broader context of preschooler sport. Six Ontario-based ECEs completed virtual semi-structured interviews. Findings revealed mixed perceptions of preschooler sport, with ECEs commonly suggesting organized sport is not necessary during early childhood, but has the potential to enhance children's physical (e.g., motor skill), psychosocial (e.g., sharing, self-regulation), and cognitive (e.g., following rules) development – if delivered "in the right environment, guided by the right people." ECEs suggested preschooler sport should be play- or interest-based and involve ample choice. Further, ECEs recommended coaches should be trained in young children's development, and how to communicate and engage with young children, to ensure programming is appropriate. Alternatively, coaches risk hindering children's confidence, reducing children's willingness to take risks, or contributing to children's sense of rejection. Insights from child development experts advances understanding of benefits and risk associated with preschooler sport, informing best practices for coaches working with this demographic.

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council- Sport Participation Research Initiative (SSHRC-SPRI)- funded