Coaching = Teaching

By Tami Matheny, Mental Skills Specialist

The best coaches are teachers as much as coaches.  They teach their players how things should be done on and off the playing field.  What they say and do have longer lasting effect than that game or that season.   How can coaches (even parents) make sure they help their athletes grow?  Here are 2 ways that usually don’t provide long term influence and 2 ways that work.

What not to do:

  1. Criticizing without productive comments.  Complaining, nagging and putting athletes down doesn’t work in the long run.  This means of coaching focuses on the negative they aren’t doing.  As Mary Poppins says, “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down!”  Its more productive to focus on what they are doing and/or providing solutions on what they need to do to improve. Provide encouragement to get better.  This doesn’t mean you look the other way when mistakes are made.  It means that you change your focus to one that teaches them what to do next time or how to correct their mistakes (on and off the field).
  2. Comparing to teammates. When you compare your athletes to their teammates or former players in a way that makes them feel inadequate you aren’t providing a foundation for growth.  Every parent knows not to compare their children to each other.  This only serves to make them feel worse.  Each athlete brings unique traits to the team.  Just like no two snowflakes are identical, no two athletes are identical. Focus on getting the most out of their uniqueness.

What to do:

  1. Set an example.  Athletes usually are aware when you are saying one thing and doing another.  If you are only preaching to them and not following your words, you won’t make a lasting impact.  Make sure you are walking the walk that you are talking.  If you are true to who you say you are, you will make a lasting impact.  Of all the leadership styles, Modeling Behavior is still the most influential.
  2. Open communication.  Too often I hear coaches say, “Because I said so”.  In the Bear Byrant era that might have been successful but it is becoming a more and more inefficient way of teaching.  Be open to explaining why.  Once athletes know why they still might not like it but they are a lot more likely to support and follow it.  Be open to letting your players talk to you.  Instead of fearing it, create an open line of communication that focuses on finding solutions instead of complaints.  In addition, talk to your players about their life.  After all, ‘real life’ is far more important the sports.  Sports are just the medium we use to TEACH lessons.  Show them you care more about them more than just as an athlete.  Have hard conversations with them that provide a foundation for making smart decisions in the future.