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Coaching Young Players with Speech Issues - How to Partner with Schools & Teachers - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

As a coach, you've probably witnessed a range of challenges that your athletes can face. Part of your role as a sports coach is being sensitive to these difficulties and helping your players overcome them. However, this can be a tall order. It takes active learning, effort, and patience. One example that can be difficult for youth coaches is that of speech difficulties.

For those who haven't experienced them, speech issues can be hard to understand or relate to. They can also create unique challenges in an athletic context. However, there are resources available to every coach that gets the opportunity to work with children with speech issues.

It's simply a matter of connecting with those resources and learning how to unlock them in a way that benefits yourself, your player(s) with speech difficulties, and the rest of the team.

Recognizing Speech Problems in a Sports Context

Kids can experience a number of different speech disorders. These can range from very slight issues that will likely correct themselves with age, to formative problems that affect the neurological, psychological, and/or physical components necessary for speech and may last for a lifetime. Many disorders can be helped or corrected with therapy or specialist intervention. For some, it can take lots of time.

Some speech problems are relatively easy to recognize. Others are more subtle. It's important for coaches to be aware that some children are embarrassed by their speech impediment and may try and hide it. For coaches to accurately assess whether any of their current players have a speech problem, it may take some careful observation. Watch for kids that don't talk much or stick to themselves.

Obviously, some children are simply shy. But some may have some kind of speech impediment. To identify other speech issues, listen for abnormal patterns of speech that include dropping sounds or parts of words; consistently pronouncing certain words incorrectly; or substituting letters or sounds for others in words.

Ways Teachers and Coaches Can Work Together for Students with Speech Problems

If you have a player with a speech problem, don't panic. As a coach that works with young players, you have a powerful set of allies: Your player's teachers. Especially if you are coaching within a school setting, you have access to strong resources that can help you learn what you need to know to help your player. You can create a powerful team by coordinating approaches with your player's teacher(s) to reinforce what is being taught at school and vice versa. This can help your player with speech issues progress farther and faster.

Creating a culture of cooperation that extends beyond the classroom environment and into other spheres of your player's life (like his or her athletic experiences) can significantly improve the results your player receives for his or her speech problems. Here is a template for how you can partner with your player's teachers:

Begin the Conversation

The best way to establish a cooperative working relationship with your player's teacher(s) is simply to reach out and, if possible, have an initial conversation. If you work in a school, this can be really easy. If you don't, it can take a bit more work but can still be straightforward. If you don't work in the educational setting where your player goes to school, talk to your player's parents about connecting with his or her teacher(s) to coordinate how to best support their child with his or her speech problem.

Be Ready to Learn

Your player's teachers have formalized training in working with students with disabilities and impediments. The best way to start a conversation is to approach it as a learner. Ask questions and be curious. You'll probably be surprised at how much you can glean from your player's teacher(s).

Make a Plan

With your player's teacher(s), come up with an action plan and steps that you can help facilitate in practice that will support what your player is learning in speech therapy and in school.

Follow Up

Let that initial connection or meeting be the start of the conversation. To make a lasting impact for your player, it's important to touch base with your player's teacher(s) again in the future to compare notes. Perhaps once a semester, reach out and see if you can have a quick conversation about how your player is doing and how to adjust or progress your work to stay tuned with what your player is working on in school.

Articles by Sarah Daren