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 is the Executive Director of 2-4-1 CARE, Inc and Co-Founder/Director of 2-4-1 Sports -- a signature program of 2-4-1 CARE-- whose flagship program is held at the Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, Conn. but now has locations throughout the United States and Canada. 2-4-1 was recognized by the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC as one of eight model programs in the United States for its approach to anti-specialization in youth sports. This led Steve to form the National Association of Physical Literacy – of which he is now Advisory Board Chair. Steve is also a founding member of the Quality Coaching Collective – an international group of activators around sport, movement and mindfulness. Lastly, through his role at CCG, Steve was the two-year Global Lead on Physical Literacy and Athletics for Whittle School & Studios (2018-20), which currently has campuses in Shenzhen, China and Washington, DC.


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