We generally have a terrible tendency as coaches to coach in the same manner in which we were coached. We are often a generation or two ahead of our students, yet we expect them to respond to the same coaching style that we grew accustomed to many moons ago. When our students don’t respond in the way we expect, or handle the criticism the way we once did then we get frustrated and complain how this current generation just aren’t tough enough or are too lazy and apathetic.
Last year, my 10 year old son, had a truly wonderful soccer coach. He wasn’t yelling and screaming on the sidelines, he wasn’t kicking the ground or waving his arms about when a kid made a mistake. Instead he would give precise instructions when play broke down and the ball went out of bounds, or he would bring a kid aside and give him some quiet feedback. In other words, he wasn’t conforming to how we think a coach is supposed to act. The other parents on our team would see the opposing coach screaming and yelling and ask why our coach wasn’t doing the same. They felt like he was too subdued and not giving enough instructions to the players. I wanted to tell them that he was probably the best coach their kid would ever have, but I have learned to keep my mouth shut at the soccer fields!
I have spent the past 12 years surrounded by high performance coaches both within my own sport of tennis, but also in Athletic Departments with coaches of over 20 different sports. Now as a parent I am observing youth coaches while also constantly questioning my own coaching style and productivity. Here are a few thoughts for coaches based on my own experiences, mistakes, learnings, and observations as a former All-American Athlete and coach:
· A coach should be full of humility and understand that what they don’t know is far greater than what they do know.
· A coach should be eager to learn and understand themselves deeply. They should be very curious about the human condition and how their actions and ego are impacting those they are trying to coach.
· A coach should know when to draw on their own experiences and when to shut up and admit they don’t know.
· A coach should know what questions to ask and when to ask them.
· Coaches should stop telling, start listening and ask better questions. Just because we are paid for our opinions, does not mean they always serve to bring the best out of our athletes.
· A coach apologizes when they are wrong and have made a mistake.
· A coach needs to know themselves well enough to understand that they may not be the right fit for every student and should know when to move on and let the student find a different mentor.
· A coach can only do some much. Sometimes a coach’s great work can be nullified by poor parenting. Do everything you can to educate the parents and hold them accountable for their behaviours when you see them act in a way detrimental to their child’s athletic development.
· A coach should act with integrity and put doing what is right over winning every time.
· A coach should adapt their expectations to the goals of their student.
· If you can’t keep your emotions in check under pressure then don’t expect your students to be able to do it.
In my opinion, society in general has a very odd definition of success. There are numerous books out there from “winning” coaches with zero integrity, yet we hold them up as heroes just like we hold up the CEO’s of giant corporations that are polluting the planet. I define successful coaches as those that make the biggest impact on their athletes, not by how many games they have won. Don’t get me wrong, winning is an important element of an athletes overall experience at all levels, but most kids are never going to play in college or in the pros. I have no idea how many games my son’s team won last year, I frankly don’t care, but I do know that this coach had a tremendous impact on my child and I will be forever grateful. He will never write a book or be interviewed on television but his influence is going to last a life time; now that, in my humble opinion, is success!
Explore your coaching style and philosophy and how it has been influenced. Just because a certain style worked for you when you were a young athlete, does not mean it is beneficial for the current athletes you are teaching. Be true to yourself and your personality, not some Hollywood version of how a coach is supposed to act.