Monday, November 3, 2014

Thinking About Being A Coach: Follow This Guide and You'll Do Just Fine

I remember the winter of 1991 like it was yesterday. After four years of teaching, I was finally being offered a chance to coach. Two positions were open, one to coach the boys tennis team, the other to coach a new sport at the school, boys lacrosse.  

Frankly, I knew nothing about lacrosse; I don’t think I had ever seen a game. Tennis, on the other hand, was in my blood. I had a racquet in my hand at the age of five, had spent two summers at Chase Tennis Center, played four years of varsity doubles, and would clearly fit the profile of a tennis junkie. Tennis would have been the easy choice, but I remember the experience of my varsity coach in high school and decided to steer clear.
With over two decades of coaching now “under my belt,” and after spending many, many Friday afternoons commiserating with other coaches, I have come to learn that regardless of the sport, there was a lot that we had in common in terms of the skills we needed if we were to succeed.

John Wooden famously referred to himself as a teacher, not a coach, to better emphasize the valuable role he commanded. A successful coach, much like a successful teacher, must find a way to “connect”. It is only then that a coach will be able to prepare their players for success and teach the life lessons that are so much a part of a coach’s responsibilities.
So after decades of coaching and exchanging ideas with other coaches, I have identified 5 characteristics that I believe are necessary components of successful coaching. Regardless of the sport, anyone interested in learning to be an effective coach must strive to master these fundamental ideas.

The first characteristic is passion: passion for the sport and passion for the role of coach. The enthusiasm a coach projects to his players is infectious, and it must be evident at practice even more so than on game day. Practice must be more than something athletes know they must do, it is something they must look forward to attending. This is especially true in today’s environment, where so many young athletes- for better or worse- have begun to specialize in one sport to the point where one’s enthusiasm wanes and the sports takes on the feel of a job.
A successful coach must also be knowledgeable. Coaches must be aware of both the skills and strategies the players must master. Being able to teach proper technique, detect and correct errors, and build winning strategies based on a player’s skills and an opponent’s weaknesses are all responsibilities of a coach regardless of the level.

Organizational skills are an overlooked but essential quality for a successful coach. Organization includes a well-structured practice, creating fair and enforceable rules for the team, having a protocol for dealing with parents, and planning out a season much like a teacher would plan a unit in math or history.
In the past the idea of empowering players was given little attention, but in today’s world it is an essential quality for any successful program. Players need to know that they are more than passive members of a team but are decision makers, whether on the court, at practice, or in the locker room. Captains must have real responsibilities, and players must be able to express their individuality and see that their personalities can contribute to the team’s success rather than as a threat to a team’s cohesion.

And finally, a successful coach must be resourceful. Whether referring to tools to benefit their players’ training, human resources to help teach, or activities to help stir passion, coaches must always be seeking out new and creative resources to inspire and educate the team.
Coaching young athletes has become the most fulfilling and inspiring experience of my adult life. There are simple keys to success in coaching, keys that anyone with the desire can learn and master. But you must master them all. The impact a coach can have on young hearts and minds makes it a challenge I encourage everyone to consider. The rewards will last a lifetime.

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