by Coach Glen R. Harris, PhD, CSA, CPC
Over the last 32 years of coaching and teaching (mostly to young people), certain themes have repeated themselves over and over. These reccurring themes slowly developed into a set of guidelines or rules, as it were, that I use when coaching or teaching. Most of these came from the realization that within the role of coach I was actually doing much, much more. With nearly 50% of today's kids being raised in single parent homes, we coaches have a tremendous opportunity to have a great influence on the lives of our charges. It is out of this realization that the following set of rules, or principles, have grown. They provide me with the basis for my own coaching philosophy. I'd like to share them with you now, not as a solution for everyone, but rather as a stimulus to anyone who - like me - strives to continue to learn and develop their abilities as a coach. With this in mind, I offer:
The Eleven Principles
- You're more important than anyone thinks.
- Remember "Murphy" - Be prepared for anything.
- Give warm-ups the respect they deserve
- Be positive. Never say "never" or "can't" or "don't."
- Stick to basics - it's the foundation of greatness.
- Encourage, Encourage, Encourage.
- Focus on the effort, not the results.
- It's a game, keep it fun.
- Great coaches have great patience. "They don't belong to you. You belong to them."
- YOU can always learn more.
- Remember: They're just kids.
YOU'RE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYONE THINKS. I don't believe enough coaches understand this. If they did, they would act much differently. Coaches at all levels, but especially at youth and adolescent levels, are tremendously important to the development of their athletes as just people. If you stop and think about who the recurring role models are in a young person's life there are only a few - parent(s), teacher(s), pastor/priest(s) and coach(s). Given this short list, a 51% divorce rate, and the fact that the average American marriage lasts a mere 9.4 years as real statistics, it's fairly safe to assume that not all of the above-named possible role models are present for any athlete. While the reasons for this are many, I submit to you that the magnitude of a coach's impact is clearly amplified for today's young athlete. I'm sure that we can all quickly cite examples where a coach finds him or herself in a position of distinct influence on a young person's physical, mental, and/or emotional development. For coaches who are not aware of their role model status, it is not only unfortunate, but it can be tragic. If you understand the awesome power that you possess, and you truly understand that you are indeed more important than you or anyone thinks, you will be better prepared for the truly essential role that you play in the lives of your athletes.
BE PREPARED. Remember Murphy. It's not enough that a coach understands his responsibilities; he must also be prepared to perform them. Whether it's setting up practice schedules, repairing equipment, or just being physically and emotionally ready to successfully handle the challenges you'll face each day, a coach must realize that to be effective requires much more than just showing up for the allotted practice and tournament times. As a rule of thumb, I have found that every hour I spend with my athletes requires at least an hour of preparation, often more. Of course, this does not include the unpredictable issues that a coach may face like schedule changes, discipline problems, and injuries, just to name a few. The point being that you must take the time to come prepared to coach while maintaining enough flexibility to adapt to unforeseen challenges. The need for good preparation seems to become greater and greater as the demand for quality practice increases, due to shortages of available facilities, loss of time, and a myriad of other factors that you, as a coach, have no control over. To get the most out of the time you have with your kids, being organized and prepared isn't just a clichÃ©; it's a necessity.
GIVE WARM-UPS THE RESPECT THEY DESERVE. This seems to come as a surprise to many folks, but this, like all the principles, has several layers of benefit. Often times I hear, "I don't have time to stretch," or "Drills are boring." I emphasize warm-ups for several reasons. First, warm-ups provide young athletes an opportunity to transition from their typically chaotic day into the more structured environment necessary for a coach to teach and instruct. (This is a somewhat selfish reason, but nonetheless very valued). Second, I believe exercises provide an opportunity to work on team building. The exercises are more than just performing the exercises in unison. They provide a time for you as the coach to talk (team build) with your archers. I do this in my college classes. I do this with my college team, and every chance I get with juniors. This provides a great equalizer to all the individual personalities.
Warm-ups also provide leadership opportunities. It's a time when you can allow each of your athletes to "be in charge" and to develop some leadership skills. Experience has proven to me that this third benefit is an excellent way to draw out the less outgoing, less mature, or perhaps most noteworthy, the less-talented kids into the mainstream of the team (this is very useful with the younger set). Simply stated, being a warm-up leader allows them to become contributors sooner than they might otherwise.
Finally, I firmly believe it just makes sense to develop good habits early in a young person's life. Warm-ups certainly provide physical benefits, but, as I stated, this goes much deeper. So, start giving warm-ups the respect they deserve.
BE POSITIVE. "Never say never or can't or don't." We all naturally want to look at ourselves as positive coaches, but I see a disturbing trend in many coaches of young athletes. That is, they are quick to point out the flaws or negatives, and this comes across as very derogatory. I suspect that this is certainly not the intention of the coach. Instead of pointing out a mistake, you should reinforce the correct behavior. Kids are no different than adults in wanting to receive positive "strokes." They want to be told they're doing things well. Find what's good, reinforce what needs to be done, and keep them moving forward. OK, so he/she doesn't have the best swing, or kick but he/she has a great attitude. Certainly a coach can find something good or right to say or build on about their athletes in most instances. Not only do the behavioral scientists suggest it, but also my experience has proven that positive feedback is much more likely to elicit the correct behavior or form skill that you, as a coach, are looking for.
Also, be sure you are reinforcing the behavior that you want, rather than focusing on what is being done incorrectly. If you phrase your correction in the form of a question, or simply reminding the athlete about a particular skill then the correction will always be positive. Try starting your statements with "Remember..." or "How about we try ...?"
One caution to add is to be sure your feedback is appropriate. Kids can smell insincerity and then you have a real can of worms to sort out. In the final analysis, practices that are filled with positive coaching are more enjoyable for everyone - coaches, athletes, and parents. It's a matter of perspective. Is the glass half full or half empty? Be positive. The end result will be individual skill improvement and enhanced team morale.
Remember there are always more possibilities than there are limitations.continue reading in Never Say Never (part two)