The importance of the coach, the parents and peers in the child’s social development (The Social Development Triangle)

There are three key role-players at the heart of the psychosocial development of a child in the world of sport.

The Coach

The coach plays a pivotal role in the child’s development, and the best coaches design a unique development framework for the sportsperson concerned. While the development framework has many elements, and these may differ with different sporting codes, no coach can afford to ignore the psychological element which tends to apply across all codes.

From a psychological perspective the coach will start by –

  • learning about the subject and his or her background (ie to learn what motivates the subject and what emotional support they require);
  • making the sport fun, enjoyable and not too demanding (ie develop a love of the sport in the subject); and
  • creating good habits.

Once the coach has laid the appropriate foundations, there is a shift in focus to increase the work-rate (intensity) and to present the sportsperson with diverse and varied situations that require problem-solving. This prevents boredom and, critically, provides the sportsman with tools for transition. Development is all about transitioning from one level to the next (ie initiation phase of a child to high performance phase to elite / professional performance phase).

However, the coach is but one side of the development triangle. The coach must communicate and work with the parent.

The Parent

The parent, as the second side of the developmental triangle, begins by making sure that the sport is enjoyable and fun. This includes not forcing a child to play a specific sport but rather supporting the child in choosing the sport that he or she finds most enjoyable.

The parent has a multiplicity of functions in creating the correct motivational climate for development. In particular the parent must –

  • help the child sustain interest in the sport (ie if the parent is not interested and actively involved, the child’s the motivation for the child will diminish);
  • convey an appropriate perception of the child’s abilities (ie a child will attempt to live up to the parent’s image of them. A child that fails to meet the parent’s expectations will become demotivated and appropriate goal-setting is very important); and
  • reinforce good habits (including appropriate eating and sleeping habits).

As the most important influence on the young child, a parent must take special care not to –

  • place undue pressure on the young sportsperson (ie constant pressure will lead to increased anxiety and raised stress levels which are demotivating); and
  • express conflicting views and opinions to the coach as this will the child will create tension and confusion.

From the initiation phase of development there is a third key role player, namely peers. Peers represent the third side of the development triangle.


Sport often presents an opportunity for children to socialize with other children. Peers are important for social and emotional development.

The child is more likely to play sport if their friends play sport. This creates a sense of belonging and is an important motivational factor. If friends share goals and interests they are more likely will continue with the sport.

The social support of a peer group is an important psychological influence on individuals. They learn important skills required for development, including –

  • team work and group cohesion (ie regardless of the sport, the child will learn it is hard to achieve their goals on their own and goals are more manageable help from peers); and
  • communication skills.

A strong social triangle is what best facilitates a child’s development in sport.