Newsletter Article

Youth Enrichment in Sports: An Applied Sport Psychology Perspective

“If it hadn’t been for sports, I wouldn’t have grown up hating my father.” - Quote from a 40-Year-Old Man

Youth sports are a firmly established part of societies around the world, and they directly touch the lives of millions of children, adolescents, and adults. In the United States alone it is estimated that about 60.3 million youngsters 6-to-18 years of age participate in agency-sponsored sports, such as Little League Baseball, the American Youth Soccer Organization, and the Boys and Girls Clubs. Additionally, about 7.5 million youth (4.4 million males, 3.1 million females) participate in high school sports.

The growth of youth sport programs during the past half-century has been dramatic in scope, but not without dispute. Much of the debate concerns the roles that coaches and parents play. To resolve some of the controversy, Drs. Ronald E. Smith and Frank L. Smoll have carried out a program of research and development that has spanned more than three decades.

How Can Coaches and Parents Improve Youth Sports?

Beginning in the early 1970s, Professors Smith and Smoll co-directed a project that is now known as Youth Enrichment in Sports (YESports). The objective of the project is to develop, evaluate, and deliver child-centered educational programs for coaches and parents—instructional offerings that ultimately serve to benefit young athletes. Supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the William T. Grant Foundation, their approach illustrates what is called “evidence-based practice” in the field of medicine. At every stage of the process, scientific research played a key role in developing YESports interventions.

Photo of Frank Smoll
Dr. Frank Smoll
Dr. Ron Smith
Dr. Ron Smith

YESports training programs are designed to help coaches and parents create a mastery climate—a learning environment that emphasizes skill development, personal and team success, maximum effort, and fun. In both academic and sport settings, a wide range of salutary outcomes have been linked to a mastery climate.

What is the Mastery Approach to Coaching?

In their basic and applied research, Smith and Smoll developed the Mastery Approach to Coaching (MAC), which is the only scientifically validated coaching education workshop that has been shown to have the following outcomes:

  • Fosters positive coach-athlete relations and greater mutual respect
  • Increases the amount of fun that athletes experience
  • Creates greater team cohesion and a more supportive athletic setting
  • Promotes higher mastery-oriented achievement goals in sports and in school
  • Increases athletes’ self-esteem
  • Reduces performance-destroying anxiety and fear of failure
  • Decreases athlete dropout rates from approximately 30% to 5%
  • Produces equally positive effects on boys and girls teams

Where Have MAC Workshops Been Presented?

More than 25,000 youth sport coaches have participated in some 500 workshops in the United States and Canada. Workshops have been presented to volunteer coaches in a variety of sport-specific organizations (e.g., Little League Baseball, Washington Youth Soccer, Minnesota Hockey) and multi-sport organizations (e.g., Catholic Youth Organization, Boys and Girls Clubs, community recreation departments). The program has also been offered as in-service training for PE teachers and coaches in public school districts.

What is the Biggest Problem in Youth Sports?

When asked this question, administrators and coaches almost unanimously agree. It’s parents! Although problem parents may be a small minority, their impact can be huge. Because of this, the Smith-Smoll team developed the Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports (MAPS) so that mothers and fathers can learn to make positive contributions. The research-based workshop for parents complements the one for coaches and is designed to get the two groups of adults “on the same page.”

What are the MAC and MAPS Self-Instructional Programs?

The MAC and MAPS workshops were recently transformed into self-instructional DVD format. The 66- and 45-minute programs are specifically designed to teach mastery-oriented principles with the aid of animated graphics, photos, and embedded videos.

How will the Mastery Approach DVDs be disseminated? Drs. Smith and Smoll are working to find corporate and foundation sponsors to deliver the training—free of charge—to youth sport organizations nationwide.

Where is More Information About YESports Available?

The YESports project website contains summaries of Smith’s and Smoll’s research articles, expanded descriptions of the Mastery Approach programs, and video previews of the MAC and MAPS DVDs (