The best teachers coach their students, and the best coaches are great teachers.
- Grant Teaff
No matter your coaching style, your athletes have to trust you before they are willing to learn from you, buy in to your values, and to strive toward a common goal.
Here are some tips on how to connect with your athletes so you can challenge them to be great!
a. Get to know each athlete on a personal level. Learn differences in attitude, sensitivity, how each responds to adversity and criticism, and learn what motivates them. Also, get to know them as people, not just as athletes. Find out what they like to do when they aren't playing a sport, what they are passionate about, and what they want to do in the future. This includes, understand each athlete’s expectations. For example, figure out whether a high school athlete is on the team to have fun or if they plan to play in college.
b. Have clear rules and expectations, and be consistent.
c. Be an observer and take time to analyze situations. Ask questions before judging, be it an athlete losing his/her temper or an athlete not understand a tactical aspect of the sport.
d. Give specific praise to build self-esteem. Catch and reinforce little things that your athletes do right. In the same right, give specific and constructive criticism as well. If you are going to highlight something that needs improvement, explain what you would like to see improvement on. Athletes need to understand what you are looking for as a coach. The worst thing you can do is to not say anything or to be one-sided with praise or criticism.
e. Teach your athletes to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Create challenging and competitive environments in practice, e.g., break the team up into groups to compete during drills. In games, you can have your athletes focus in the moment by creating process based goals, like having a lacrosse team challenge every 50/50 ball with at least two players. For this to work, coaches need to create an emotionally safe learning environment.
f. Create a safe learning environment by making it imaginative and fun. If you can do this in practice and competition, it develops peak performance habits because athletes learn to perform with calm and focus. When you create an environment of creativity you allow athletes to try new things. When you make it fun, athletes know that they can make mistakes they can learn from vs fear that they will be punished for messing up.
g. Teach life lessons on and off the field. Sports teach lessons relatable to everyday life, including rebounding from setbacks, trusting your teammates, sacrificing individual needs for the benefit of the group, dealing with emotions, being honest, and having integrity. Remember to highlight lessons learn from sport.
h. Build a proactive not reactive relationship with parents and/or family members. Educate them on the game, and their role on the team. Also, be willing to listen to their questions and concerns. Family members can be your greatest ally when it comes to your athlete. Help them understand the best way to support their athlete.
i. Walk the walk, practice what your preach. Actions speak louder than words.
j. Be a life long learner as a coach, this involves professional development and a willingness to be open to change as well.
k. Passion, remember what makes you passionate about coaching because if you aren’t having fun, no one is.