If you don’t love the team, don’t coach them. If you don’t care about the well-being and growth of the individuals on the team, do not coach them. If you aren’t showing up with their best interests in mind every practice, do not coach them. If you have a problem with building someone up so they can better themselves and eventually leave the team (if they so choose), put down the whistle and notebook. Your job is to help them succeed in their chosen path.
The secret to success is love. It’s the team loving each other. It’s those individuals loving the sport. And it is you loving those individuals.
What do I mean by loving those individuals?
FIND THE COMMON DENOMINATOR.
What are the goals of the team? What are the goals of the individuals? How do you align them?
Check in often. Almost EVERY WEEK I am asking the team what they feel they needs the most work. It’s not because I don’t know– it’s because I value their opinions as well. It’s not about what I want to work on. It’s about what they need to work on! Your goals NEED to align with the goals of the team! Don’t screw them out of the work they find valuable just because you found a new, fun drill you want to watch and try.
GET TO KNOW YOUR ATHLETES.
Some people LOVE negative reinforcement and some people will give up if that’s what is presented to them. Getting to know what pushes your athlete’s limits, motivates them, and makes them feel confident is incredibly important. Learn how to properly talk to EACH INDIVIDUAL. Some skaters you will need to yell at and chastise. They will respect you and push themselves harder in return. Some skaters you will need to encourage gently and check in with. They will work hard and grow faster because of your kindness. Recognize that the team is made up of all different types. You CANNOT treat everyone the same and expect the same results. If that bothers you, find some other way to spend your time because teams need more understanding coaches.
GET TO KNOW THEIR GAME DAY HABITS.
I sent out a survey after a few games to check in with my skaters and what they needed to be on their best mental game. This tool provides a great reference for me. During a game I am scattered between watching, shouting what needs to happen on the track, and checking in with skaters at various intervals. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook someone who appears collected, but on the inside is freaking the fuck out.
BE AWARE OF VISUAL CUES.
Photo © David Randall
Both at practice and on game day your athletes are reacting to many different stimuli. Pay attention to if your skaters look confused, concerned, upset, exhausted, etc. Work to know your athletes reactions. There have been plenty of times where a skater tells me they are good to go, but out of the corner of my eye I see them making pained or uncomfortable faces. Is that just how your skater reacts to anxiety, or did something happen? You need to know them individually to know if they truly are okay, or if they WANT to be okay and to live up to expectations. Check in during and after the situation. Practices and games can be draining, and it feels so good to have leadership reach out to let you know they are proud or happy you stuck it out.
ACCEPT THEIR FEELINGS AND CRITICISMS.
Shit practices happen. Shit moments in coaching happen. Shit opponents and shit games happen. The team needs to feel comfortable bringing their issues to you. If you aren’t accepting of feedback and criticism, this can cause the team to harbor negative feelings and things can begin to implode from the inside. Be willing to look at everything from all angles, get some outside unbiased opinions on the situation if need be, and work to compromise.
DO NO HARM, BUT TAKE NO SHIT.
Not everyone will love you. Not everyone will even LIKE you! People will disagree with you. As long as the entire team isn’t feeling this way, let it roll off your back. You will not be able to meet EVERYONE’S needs ALL OF THE TIME. Don’t run yourself or the team into the ground trying to please everyone. Remind them that you only have so much time and energy to volunteer to them. Everyone needs to contribute to succeed. A team should aim function like a well-oiled machine on the track and behind the scenes.
Next time we will talk about the personal (almost selfish reasons) to pursue coaching!