Coaching vs. Counseling

October 21, 2022

As a career counselor and coach, I’ve often quipped that I do more coaching during my counseling sessions, and more counseling during my coaching sessions. Truth be told, I’ve always seen a very fine line, and now more than ever.

This week, I sat in on a powerful and important webinar called: Managing Challenging Behaviors in Youth Sports. Invited by our friends at the Center for Healing and Justice Through Sports, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  

Full disclosure, I was a bit turned off by the title of the webinar at first as I was afraid the entire discussion would be about kids with “bad” behaviors. Thankfully, I was wrong as it was very much about meeting kids where they are, and recognizing that everyone we come in contact with has a reason for any behaviors they may be exhibiting. 

The webinar proved a genuine conversation between folks who wake up everyday recognizing the power and influence coaches have on the young people under their care. The recommendations were insightful and rooted in research and personal experience. One thing I’ve become keenly aware of since the onset of the pandemic is that if we needed to pay attention to social emotional development before COVID 19, we have to make it priority No. 1 now. We hear a lot about “learning loss” from school districts, but very little of that is focused on things beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. What about learning loss in self regulation, social awareness, empathy, character development? This is when my coaching and counseling hats almost always start to merge.

I’ve written about it before (The Value for Sport and Social Emotional Learning), but if we want to turn to an accelerator for learning loss recovery in these areas, look no further than sport-based programs. 

Here’s the brief version. The following are the 5 core components of Social Emotional Learning (per CASEL™):

  1. Self Awareness
  2. Self Regulation/Management
  3. Social Awareness
  4. Responsible Decision Making Skills
  5. Relationship Skills 

I could make an argument that if you put a group of kids on a playground with a few play-based objects (eg. kickball, jumprope, nerf ball, tennis ball, etc) then those 5 core components will get worked on in some capacity (yes, some through trial and error) whether an adult is present or not. But here is the truly sad statement: Well intentioned or not, too many adults just muddy things up!

Sometimes the kids are better off figuring it out on their own. Why? Because the adults put in charge are often untrained, and/or bring their own baggage to the situation. But, train those adults to intentionally address these skills as definitively as they address the individual sport skills (e.g. kicking, passing, throwing, etc.) and we will be guaranteed to have learning loss recovery in these areas. Hot tip: Sometimes that training will include learning when NOT to intervene and let kids figure things out. Often, our job is to guide and support not to direct!

Words matter. I think we need to stop referring to things as soft skills vs. hard skills. I can tell you right now that a young person learning a crossover dribble (supposed “hard skill”) is a lot easier than managing their anger in a competitive situation (supposed “soft skill”).  But experienced coaches will tell you that managing that anger will help that young person develop as a player much more holistically than developing that dribble. Unfortunately, we hire coaches who know how to develop the crossover way before hiring ones who know how to develop social emotional skills. But this doesn’t have to be either/or! If we were to prioritize SEL and we really care about youth development, then webinars – and training –  such as “Managing Challenging Behaviors” would be required participation by anyone working with our youth in sport. 


About Steve Boyle

Steve Boyle is a visionary leader and advocate for youth sports and physical literacy. As the Executive Director of 2-4-1 CARE, Inc. and Co-Founder/Director of 2-4-1 Sports, Steve stands at the forefront of the movement to transform the youth sports paradigm. His forward-thinking anti-specialization approach has garnered acclaim from esteemed institutions like the Aspen Institute. At the helm of 2-4-1, Steve has skillfully guided its expansion from its flagship location in West Hartford, Connecticut, to a range of locations across the U.S., Canada, and Africa. His leadership has not only scaled the program but also redefined the standards of youth sports Beyond the scope of 2-4-1 Sports, Steve’s influence extended to developing the National Association of Physical Literacy, where his insights as Advisory Board Chair were pivotal. His tenure as Global Lead on Physical Literacy and Athletics for Whittle School & Studios marked a significant contribution to the global community, shaping the athletic and physical education frameworks across campuses in Shenzhen and Washington, D.C. Steve is equally known for merging his expertise in counseling with his coaching acumen to create the TOP Self social-emotional learning platform. This innovative endeavor leverages sports to impart essential social-emotional learning skills, cementing Steve’s status as a national authority in physical literacy development.


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