11 Tips for Coaching Athletes with Learning Differences

  1. Get to the point. They won’t recall the rest.

  2. Give one spoken direction at a time.  Again, they won’t recall the rest.

  3. Post multi-step directions or workout plans.  Write a list for directions or workouts with multiple steps, including picture cues if necessary.  Post these for the whole team, not singling out the LD athlete.

  4. Slow down in conversation. Wait out pauses in their speech, and be certain that they are finished before jumping in. Be patient and hear them out if they interrupt. If they don’t get to speak right away they could lose their thoughts.

  5. Monitor engagement.  LD athletes might not be looking at you — and that doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.  Ask the whole team to repeat back what they heard to avoid singling anyone out. (Also see the tips for engaging ADHD athletes.)

  6. Get physical.  Walk them through plays, drills and new techniques. Then have them walk it on their own. Engaging all of their senses helps the material stick.

  7. Draw it.  Draw pictures and diagrams of plays, drills, stretches, etc., and provide all athletes copies to take home.

  8. Use labels. Mark the court, field, pool or track to remind the athletes where to stand, which is left and right, etc.  Do this without calling attention to any one athlete.

  9. Let them fly under the radar.  Do not ask them in front of peers to read aloud, speak to an audience or write.  Ask first in private if they would like the opportunity.

  10. Provide alternate resources. This might be assistance from a coach or teammate (ask privately first) or an alternate resource, such as audio for lengthy playbooks or other required reading.

  11. Be patient. Understand that their stories might seem off or out of sequence, that they might forget directions and belongings, that they might need more reps before the offense or technique sinks in. Remember how much harder they have to try.

Also see the tips for coaching kids with ADHD.  The two groups can exhibit similar traits, and ADHD and learning disabilities often travel together.