Pay Attention! Being a coach is one the most exciting activities in which a person can be fortunate enough to be involved. You can help shape the lives of talented individuals into being better and well disciplined human beings. Teach them how to be competitive but help them to win and stay humble while losing with grace. It's a huge challenge with all the delicate inner workings and planning that must be juggled to be successful. I thought it was only fair since I wrote on how athletes get on coaches' nerves, that I return the favor and turn it around.
Lend Me Your Ear
In any relationship communication is a two-way street. The more you put on the table, the stronger the bond will be. And not listening to your athlete can severely weaken that bond.
A coach should not dismiss what the athlete has to say regarding their training. Sometimes "trust the process" is not sufficient enough answer to instill confidence from your athlete. You must consider that some may have been training since a very young age, and if they are students of the game, they may very well know enough to challenge you. If you have spent time with your athlete, you will be able to discern what an appropriate answer is, and not deliver a canned response.
Some athletes can take criticism, some need coddling, and some it takes just a look to convey what you're thinking. The point is you need to learn what the individual athlete requires! Remember we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. That means paying attention to them, being fully engaged, and repeating back to them what you heard in your own words, so you make sure you understand what was said.
But you said…
Not keeping your word comes right behind not listening to your charges. If you make a promise, you better keep your word. If you don't intend to keep your promise, don't make one! Coaches are not perfect. With a lot of responsibilities to carry out during the day, we may forget. But when it becomes a regular habit, then you will have a problem.
Most people will forgive something slipping your mind once, twice you are skating a thin line of trust. That old saying of "three strikes you're out" applies here. If you want your athlete to trust you, it will be difficult if you have not followed through on previous promises. Once trust is lost it takes a long time to gain back. Do what you say, or don't say it at all!
It's All in Your Head
As an athlete, your practices have been productive these last few months, and suddenly you feel something, and you're not quite sure what it is. You have a couple of options, either ignore it or get it checked out.
The first thing you should do is let your coach know because if you choose to continue with the practice, then you can both be mindful of it and make adjustments. When you get it checked by a licensed professional, you adhered to the diagnosis and treatment. There is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion just to be on the safe side. There are outstanding coaches out there who are schooled in anatomy and physiology and are excellent in the various modalities to get you back to health. If your coach is not one of them, then you may have an issue.
If you know your athlete, and his personality is not to feign injury, so he doesn't have to practice, because you know he's not missing a game, then you should believe him! It's better to be safe than sorry because if some form of catastrophic injury occurs, and you have a conscience, you'll never forgive yourself. Take the word of the athlete; eventually, the truth will come out.
You Want Me to Do What?!
Pressure and stress is a part of life. Practice puts you in stressful controlled scenarios to get you used to what you'll face in a competitive environment. Why add more stress by expecting them to excel beyond reasonable expectations?
All coaches based on experience, data kept from previous years, and the performances that have come in the past are good enough to figure out what you can attain. It's also his job to get you beyond your belief of what you are capable.
Problems arise when you don't meet the goals set by the coach. And even though the athlete has done what's required of him, the coach counts the result as a failure on the athlete's part. If you followed the coach's plan, did all that was needed, then possibly it wasn't your day! If your conversation begins to steer in the direction of "you disappointed me, and I'm embarrassed", I guarantee your athlete will hear nothing after the first criticism.
I Will Never Be Good Enough for You
The opposite of having high expectations is having is a coach that doesn't believe in your abilities. There is nothing worse than working your tail off and not be able to validate your worth. Having a lack of confidence in another person's capabilities can be devastating to that individual. There are exceptions to the rule, but that just means there are different motivations involved.
As coaches, we tend to pay decreasing amounts of attention to a person because we don't think they will amount to anything. We need to pay attention to everyone to the best of our ability, realizing some need more coaching than others. Especially in a team environment, because you don't know if you have a diamond in the rough. You could probably name athletes who have left a program and gone on the become stars in the changed atmosphere. It's in your best interest to do your best, after all, is that not your job, to coach?
If you have two standards of rules, one for the stars who can do no wrong, and one for the rest of the team, you've lost the respect of your athletes. Given, you will have favorite players who are on the same page as you and are a joy to work with. But some will be a challenge, nothing you say to them seems to get through.
This scenario is where we earn our stripes as coaches! Example, you're the head coach of a team on which your child is playing. And whether you see it or not, he's not as good a player as you think he is. The other team members notice this, and soon enough there are rumblings as to how he is ahead of player x on the depth charts. If he does something wrong, rarely is he corrected, but others get reamed out and belittled in front of the crew.
Do you think that only happens in little league? It continues right up until you reach the highest level in sports, "I didn't recruit him, he's not my guy!" Slowly you will erode the confidence and the morale of the team if this behavior continues. If you decide to keep him on your roster, then he deserves to be treated like all the rest.
I’m the man
As a coach, nothing gives us more pride than when one of your athletes does well in their sport. But you must remember that you are just a cog in the wheel, part of a team of professionals that all have a hand in the success of the athlete. But here's the issue, if you can enjoy all the accolades for taking them to the top, then take some responsibility for the failure when the athlete drops to the bottom.
There are a lot of variables involved in training an athlete to a championship level; we naturally aim to do our best to cover everything our expertise allows. But we also need to recognize when we are outside of our scope of practice and need to get an opinion, bring in help, or be honest and refer them to another coach. We all need to surround ourselves with people who can hold us accountable, without letting our egos get involved.
If you are continually telling them what they are doing wrong when things don't go your way, what do you think they are thinking; that they are complete failures? Have you ever apologized to an athlete? There's a tool you can add to your kit that will come in handy later. If you're brave enough to use it, you may be pleasantly surprised as to what happens to the relationship.
Drop the Mic
A pet peeve of mine is a coach paying too much attention to his phone instead of watching the session. Coaches need to pay attention, not only for the safety of the athlete but his protection as well.
With the advent of social media, I see it all the time. "I need to grab some footage of this exercise and put it out on IG before anybody else does." I've filmed football games, and track meets on a video camera. Remember those? You know when I got to see the details of the game or run when I went home to watch it? From my point of view, I was too busy trying to keep the subject or the ball in the frame.
The same thing happens with your mobile device. You're trying to get enough detail, so you can show what the athlete needs to do to improve. That is a perfectly acceptable use of your phone, to teach, film, show, then put it away and watch for the change. If you're on social media, texting, or making a phone call, that is unacceptable. The one moment of inattention could cost you both dearly!
See Food Diet
Some people go into practice with their last meal being hours beforehand, and at this point, they are starving, including belly rumbling and all. The last thing they want to see is their coach throwing down a meal when they are famished. Have a heart!
Some of us coaches need to cut back on our calories, not being in the same shape as in our teen years. We often tend to eat fast-food, which in itself, is a bad example when you're trying to get your charges to eat better. The smell alone might make them go into a food coma!
Be respectful of their time, after all; you wouldn't want them eating a meal during practice, so why should you? Time your eating habits to coincide with training, your team will thank you.
All in my business
Some coaches spend a significant amount of time with their athletes. It can be as short as an hour and a half up to six or more hours per day. That's a lot of time that needs to be respected. But some coaches think that being your coach gives them the right to control all aspects of your life. A coach-athlete relationship can be one of the closet friendships you have, but boundaries have to be set beforehand by both parties.
If the athlete is under 18, you better get the parents involved as well. If you find the need to control their parents, friendships, teachers, life choices, or in some cases significant others, I'm drawing the line. If you are told something in confidence that you recognize is detrimental to the athlete, you'll have to decide what you do with the information, and what expert to contact to handle it. However, if you must control all aspects of the individual's personal life, you'll need to excuse yourself from the situation before you cause irreparable damage.
You Don't Care
All the above comments come down to whether or not you care about the person. Is it all about you and your gain, or helping the athlete reach their potential? When you are in your athlete's corner, and they know it, they will run through a brick wall for you, if you tell them.
I've run into adults whom I coached at a young age, and they still call me coach! That my friend is a term of endearment, they still respect you enough to call you by that title. Sometimes you get to reminisce about the stories from the good old days, being stunned that they remember what took place. They may even tell you what an effect you had on their lives. That's the kind of thing that makes your day.
What you say, how you act, and your interest in their well-being has a profound effect. But "with great power comes great responsibility." You can contribute to making or breaking an athlete's psyche, career and life.
Wrapping it up
Practice these behaviors to avoid pissing your athletes off!