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Relationship building is always happening. It is not something that you can turn on and off at certain times.

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In sports, there are two crucial environments where girls build relationships: formal time and informal time. Formal time is planned, structured time which can include activities, games, and drills. Informal time is our down time, our in-between time. [16]




In school: being in class, attending an assembly

In schools: time in the hallway during passing periods, lunch, and recess

In sports: running an organized drill, playing in a game

In sports: getting ready in the locker room, walking to practice, the bus ride to an away game


Where do coaches tend to focus more energy? Formal or informal time?


Let’s look at informal time through the lens of summer camp.

The American Camp Association conducted a study to find out what makes kids want to go back to their respective summer camps year after year.

Camp graphic

As a part of the study, researchers focused on a sleepaway camp, taking note of how many kids decided to come back for the second year. They found that a deciding factor for why kids chose to come back was whether or not they enjoyed cabin time. They found it was the time between activities, and not the activities themselves, that made the biggest difference. According to the study, most of the kids who decided not to come back tied their decision back to their experience during cabin time.

Cabin time is an example of what we call informal time. Time when kids are hanging out in between activities. Time when awesome things can happen, but negative things can take place, too.

Having friends to walk to the cabin with

Having people to sit with at meal times

Being included in conversations in the cabin

Often, these are moments where some counselors decide to take a break or do their own things. But great counselors know that informal time is when relationships are built and where adults can help young people have positive experiences.

So what does informal time mean in the context of sports?


Before and after practice

Bus rides to games

Going to and from practice

Breaks between drills / water breaks

Locker rooms

As a coach, you need to be aware of and intentional about what happens during informal time in your practices and games and leverage it to build relationships and keep girls happy and safe.

Making time at the right time

1. When Coach Caitlin gets on the bus with her players, she goes to the middle and sits next to a kid who doesn’t have a seatmate.

2. The other players will come sit next to them to talk to Coach Caitlin.

3. Coach Caitlin can gradually bring the less involved players into the conversation through casual chats.

It doesn’t take any formal agenda to make a positive impact on players. Paying attention to informal time makes it easier to do the following:

  • Focus on a smaller group of players
  • Invest in quality one-on-one time
  • Get to know them beyond the scope of the sport
  • Get a sense of how they’re doing each day

Now that you know when to make an impact, let’s talk about how you can develop strong relationships between yourself as a coach and your players.


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