Tips for Coaching Learning Differenced Athletes

Continuing on the topic of athletes who learn differently, let’s talk about some tips that you can implement with the coaches in your athletic department. Almost all coaches will deal with an athlete that has been diagnosed with a “learning disability.” No two situations or challenges are the same, but there are some guidelines that every coach should follow when dealing with athletes who learn differently.

Today’s guidelines, tips, and thoughts come from a few different sources. However, the bulk of the help comes from Coach Matt Errico of the Hill School in Fort Worth, TX. Hill School is for “students who learn differently.” Coach Errico is a league championship coach in varsity boys basketball and varsity golf. You can read more of his advice in our previous post.

Before we get into these tips, I’d like to preface it by saying the following.

Regardless of learning orientation, the advice Coach Errico gives in regards to coaching athletes who learn differently is great advice for any coach in any sport with all athletes.

Whether you deal with athletes with diagnosed learning disabilities or not, today’s post has some great nuggets of wisdom for all coaches.

The following tips come straight from Coach Errico himself.


Repetition for Learning and Review

Students that learn differently will require more repetition than other students and may also need to be refreshed on what they have learned.

Example:  A basketball player who learns differently and has run an inbounds play all season may not remember it the next season and will need extra refresher on something you feel they should already know.  (Could be true of any athlete.)


Coach is Instrumental in Personal Growth

Most learning differenced students lack confidence because of their lack of academic success.

One thing I have seen is how building confidence in athletics can directly affect success in the classroom so I believe that we as coaches are also very important to the educational process.


Continuity is Key

It is very important to establish a program at the early ages and use the same terminology throughout.

It can be confusing to use several different terms for the same action (i.e.  setting a screen in basketball can also be called a pick, try to pick one term and have all coaches use that term).


No Surprises

Students with Learning differences need to have a solid structure of expectations set.

Surprises do not go well often with the learning differenced athlete.


Less Talk, More Action

Most learning differenced students are kinesthetic in their learning.

This means that long-winded speeches by coaches are not good. Most students with a learning difference will drift after a few minutes. So in practice give quick “blurbs” of instruction and then get back to activity.

If something goes wrong quickly correct and then more activity. This should be the pattern of instruction.

(Editor’s note: this applies to every coach and athlete, too often coaches over-teach. You learn sports skills through experience.)


Use Video as Review

Video review of games does help as being able to see video examples of themselves doing something right and wrong are strong reinforcements for the learning differenced athlete.


Keep it Fun

It must be fun.  Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously.

The older I get the more I realize that I want to be successful and win as a coach, but it must be fun or you will lose any athlete but especially the learning differenced athlete.


In Closing

At the end of his list of tips, Coach Errico said the following:

Even if I weren’t at Hill School, I think I would still coach the same way that I do now.

Obviously, the tips today were great advice for any coach regardless of situation.

However, I would encourage all coaches to look into the learning ability and background of their athletes. Do you have learning differenced athletes? If so, then you may want to start applying some of the above tips.

I’d like to thank Coach Errico for his input in this week’s posts. His experience and insight has been extremely valuable to me as I’m sure it has been for all of our readers.


Do you have experience with athletes who learn differently? Any tips?


Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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