An Athlete's Perspective on Coaching

While I might not be a coach, being an athlete for over 15 years definitely lends some insight into good examples of coaching and bad examples of coaching. If you’ve played a sport, been in a club, been a student or an employee, honestly if you’ve ever been someone who had to work beneath a form of leadership I can almost guarantee that you could mention your favorite higher up and your least favorite. These leadership positions are people like teachers, coaches, club presidents, bosses, or any one who you report to directly falls into the category I’m talking about. 

I’ll mainly be talking about coaches but this can apply to all leadership positions. Like I said before we can probably all name a good coach or a bad coach. These coaches can make or break your experience. The good ones make you feel proud to be a part of your program, they make you want to put in the extra effort, they make you feel happy to be there. The bad coaches can have you second guessing your choice to play, can be the leading cause of disruption on a team, and can really make your desire to play feel nonexistent. 

As a coach it is your job to make sure that you are creating the best experience you possibly can for your athletes. While you are not these athletes' parents while they are under your supervision you are responsible for them. This includes the environment you promote on your team. If you promote or do nothing about an environment that is negative your turnaround will be low and the athletes will most likely not be happy. Most unhappy athletes I know don’t recommend your team either, so not only are your current athletes unsatisfied with the dynamic of the environment, no one wants to join your team because of word of mouth. If you promote a positive environment your players will give you more effort and energy than you know what to do with. If they enjoy their time on your team they recommend it to others and they love being there. Athletes who love being a part of their teams work hard for more reasons than just potential scholarship money or familial pressures to participate. One good coach can make you love the game again but one bad coach can have you locking up your equipment forever.

While every coach has their own idea of how to be a coach, an easy phrase to keep in your back pocket is K.I.S.S. “Keep It Simple Stupid.” Though this phrase was originally used in the U.S. Navy, coined by Kelly Johnson, an aircraft engineer, you don’t need to be a pilot or an engineer to follow its concept. Keeping it simple as a coach is probably one of the best things you can do for your athletes. What does this look like, you might be wondering. Here are a couple ways you can K.I.S.S this season.

Setting clear rules and expectations for your team followed with appropriate consequences for when those are ignored. Being an athlete and having teammates ignore rules with no consequences is more than frustrating, it's polarizing. If you have an athlete that continually breaks rules or doesn’t do what they are supposed to be doing not only are you saying the rules don’t matter but your other athletes will start to resent the fact that they have a teammate who doesn’t follow the rules the rest of them do and is never held responsible for it. This is even more difficult if the athlete ignoring the rules sees significant playing time or starts over others who are following the rules. It will create a divide in the team between many different athletes. Some will be annoyed that they had been in trouble for the same thing and received a consequence, some will be upset that they aren’t seeing as much playing time when they are following the expectations even if their skill level isn’t as high as the other player, and others will be simply frustrated that they are following the rules when others are not.

As a team one of the main things that glues you together is the fact that you are in it together. Waking up at 5:00am is never fun but knowing that your teammate is right there next to you putting in the work makes it bearable. Running sprints hurts but knowing that the one beside you is in it with you makes it better. If you have athletes late to practice, not wearing the right attire, not prepared, or missing things entirely you don’t have a cohesive group, you have a disjointed group of athletes. Because how can I rely on you to do your job on the field if you can’t make it to practice? Your athletes won’t trust one another because there is no mutual respect. Respecting your teammates means you show up for them or you have a valid reason why you couldn’t. Your players will be in the trenches all season, all year if we are being honest. Playing at a high level typically requires year round work. Your team bonds in the trenches, you see the teammate on your left pushing hard not only for themselves but for you as well, what happens when you look to your right and don’t see anyone? No one wants to feel like they are the only one putting in effort. As a coach it is your responsibility to make sure that the rules and expectations you set aren’t just for show. Because if they are just for show not everyone is in it together and your team has already started to fracture once the first rule is ignored with no consequences. By having the same rules and expectations for everyone and having consequences that are appropriate for the breaking of those rules for everyone, you set down the standard that is one of the most important. No one is greater than the team. 

Having a schedule and sticking to it. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve experienced or other athletes have told me about random schedule changes that put everyone into a tailspin. As a coach, giving your athletes a schedule that covers all the events they need to attend is so important. And giving that schedule to them with enough notice is even more important. When you change things up, you have athletes that are unprepared, not all the equipment they need, not the right clothes or the right gear, other responsibilities that they have to do are now in the middle of the new practice time. If you coach at any level this is important but especially in high school and college. If your athletes are already on campus and have the gear for the end event but then you decide to change it last minute they might not have time to go home. Sticking to the schedule you pass out is not only going to help your athletes be prepared but it’s going to help you from having to coordinate with 20+ athletes who now can’t make it to their lifting session because they have class, work, or a meeting with a professor. This does not factor in weather, injury, sickness, or any other unexpected things life throws at you. You can’t control the weather and if you get the flu stay home and rest, and those things all happen. There will most certainly be a time where your outdoor practice is canceled due to weather or half your team has the stomach flu or another team needed the field for a game and they are in season. Those things will happen and informing your athletes of a new game plan for when they do is up to you. No one expects you to be perfect and there will be times when a late notice is inevitable like weather you thought might miss you or feeling sick. But working on avoiding waiting until the last minute to inform your athletes of changes to the schedule will help everyone out. 

Practice plans and reviews are one of the most helpful things I ever had when I was a collegiate athlete. Our practice plan was sent out the night before on a spreadsheet, it was updated every day and everyone had access to it. It contained things like practice plan review and practice start time (which was always the same), start and end time of every drill, what the drill worked on, and why we were working on it. When we would show up to practice every morning we would look through each drill, typically our coach would draw out the drill if we didn’t remember it or asked for it to be done. If teams needed to be decided for the day they would be read out during this time. This section of practice allowed us to ask any questions and see exactly what we would need to do once we got out to the field. While we oftentimes would ask for a walk through once we got to certain drills, having already seen what was expected of us and how the drills worked it cut down on additional practice time being used to clarify things. Having a practice plan made it so we had all the information we needed to plan out what gear we would need to bring, what time to be there, and could reach out to the coach ahead of time if we had other questions about the practice plan. 

Meeting with your athletes once a month is another easy way to check in. While some athletes might want to meet more often scheduling recurring once a week meetings, other athletes will avoid your office at all costs. This doesn’t mean they don’t like you, oftentimes it's that they don’t feel like there is any reason to meet. By scheduling a once a month meeting you can easily check in with your athletes even if they don’t feel like they need to meet with you. Meetings occasionally have specific reasons like academics or to discuss practices. These once a month meetings don’t have to have anything to do with your sport at all if you and the athlete feel like that's unnecessary. It can be as simple as a five minute meeting to check in with your athlete about how things are going, sports related or not. You can talk about whatever but this gives your athletes who don’t schedule meetings because they feel like it has to be about sports a chance to talk with you and address anything they need to. It allows you to see how they are doing and be a sound board for anything they might want to discuss. Scheduling these meetings can be as simple as picking a day each month and saying “every first wednesday we have a meeting,” or picking a specific date like “on the 10th of every month we have a meeting.”

Being a good coach doesn’t have to mean jumping through hoops and climbing mountains to please your athletes. It’s important to know that you won't ever make everyone happy, someone will always have something that they don’t like. Being a good coach doesn’t mean all your athletes like you. Being a good coach is taking care of your athletes in the ways that you can. Not tossing more on their plate by late schedule changes, being distant and never seeing them outside of practice, creating an environment where the team is divided. It’s not rocket science unless you make it rocket science. When in doubt K.I.S.S. Your athletes don’t need a superhero, they need a clear structure that is easy to follow and doesn’t make them feel like they are jumping through hoops to be an athlete. Keeping it simple stupid will not only help them know exactly what they need to do, it'll help you know exactly what you need to do. 

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