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Part 7: Creating a Practice Environment Where Athletes Will Thrive

Updated: Jul 3

(Series: Coaching: Creating a Practice Environment Where Athletes Will Thrive)

In this two-month blog series, I have explored our present coaching practices and the practice context of sports. I have reflected on my athletic experience as an athlete for 50 years and a coach for over 30 years. I see a paradox in our sports system. We have high-performing athletes in well-supporting training environments, but there remains a high dropout rate and early retirement. Further, research by the Canadian Sport for Life Society (Part 4: The Sports Context: Youth Sports have changed. How are our young athletes doing?) emphasizes that athletes are under training, have under-developed skills, and are not reaching their performance potential.

These are problematic issues I have also seen in my years of coaching cross-country skiing in Canada. These led me to complete a Master’s degree in Sports Coaching. Specifically, my observations were low-quality training and inconsistent training habits, which resulted in athletes not enjoying the sport and not being prepared for its demands. Skill and fitness require consistent, regular, and frequent practice to develop. It is our coaching leadership (program design and delivery) that creates the space for athletes to feel safe, engage in practice, develop competence and confidence, and establish productive habits.

Create environments that invite athletes to think and make decisions.

Can we create better practice spaces for athletes? Dynamic, supportive spaces that are inclusive and responsive to diverse needs and skills? These are questions I had when I started graduate studies in coaching. Yes, we can do better. We can create practice spaces that engage and encourage athletes' creativity and thinking, which results in changes in training/practice habits, skill development, and performance. Below is a list of the elements or strategies that I shared in this blog series.

Blog Series: Coaching: Creating a Practice Environment Where Athletes Will Thrive


  • Create environments that invite athletes to think and make decisions.

  • Coach’s practice plans must include opportunities for exploration and self-selected practice.

  • Continuous observation and reflection are needed for coaches to plan practices that are responsive to their team context. (Learning, skill development and performance are non-linear. Athletes are at different stages of development and learn at different rates.)

  • Coaches’ practices must include all. Athletes have diverse needs, interests, and goals for their sports participation, which are not fixed in time; they will change with the accumulation of practice. 

  • Social and emotional learning plays a crucial role in athlete development. Coaches need to balance technical instruction with creating a supportive environment that fosters curiosity, commitment, and risk-taking.

  • Allow space for multisport experiences and include opportunities for the development of physical literacy.

  • Value deliberate play within team practice time. Play engages, offers social learning opportunities, and provides self-selected challenges, resulting in ongoing learning.

  • Excellence/proficiency in any domain requires many hours/years of practice. In endurance sports, deliberate practice requires consistency and frequency.

  • Coaches and sports administrators must create inclusive sports programs that support long-term involvement and development, aiming for a balance between structured practice and playful exploration.

In summary, athletes need the space and time to practice and develop competence. Coaches should create environments that empower athletes, support diverse needs, and encourage lifelong participation in sports. By fostering a balance between structured practice and unstructured play, athletes can develop their skills, enjoy their sport, and remain engaged over the long term. 

Coaches, an update is available! All the best.


Blog Series: Coaching: Creating a Practice Environment Where Athletes Will Thrive

Part 7: Practice Update Available


The First Lap Coaching:

Are you interested in discussing how we can enhance the joy and engagement of athletes in your organization? You can contact me at

I provide Coach Education and Program Design presentations and consultations to sports clubs and associations. I would be excited to learn about your practice context, challenges, and successes. 

All the best,


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