What Coaches Need to Ask of Themselves
Coaches, have you ever had a player or parent ask you what your specific coaching goals were for the season? If they asked to see them, would you have anything to show them? While coaches may expect their players to have written goals, they rarely demand the same of themselves (or at least this is what the research on goal setting has revealed).
1. Have Clear Purpose
Every season can be a winning season despite the win-loss record. How is this done you ask? By ensuring the team's purpose is clear and you know why you are doing what you are doing.
How do you know what is important to your team? Ask. Asking players to write down why they play, and their goals for the season, can be an eye-opener. Very few players play the game to win a championship, to become the best player, or even a starter. For most, it is to “be part of a team”, to “get to know new teammates”, to “have fun at tournaments”, to “escape other stresses in life”, and yes, to improve as a player and to win a title. Most coaches understand this but having it in writing brings it to the forefront and makes it real. What does the team want to achieve as a team? Coaches should not just guess what the team values most and hope for the best.
2. Ensure Each Player Has a Role & Sense of Worth
Once the team knows the overall purpose, and they commit to that end, coaches must ensure each player has a role in the achievement of that purpose. Equally important, that they accept that role, and that everyone on the team values their role.
We all crave to belong, whether it is to someone, something or some group. Not everyone can be a captain, an all-star, or a starter. At the same time, no player can play every minute of every game. No team can run complete practices and grow as a team without an entire group effort. The team is reliant on one another. Each player is like a part in a complex engine, some perhaps larger than others, but all equally important to the overall performance.
Everything must be shared to reach both our individual and team targets.
3. Care Deeply About Each Player
Coaches are naturally going to be drawn toward players who are the most like them or display values and traits that match theirs. It’s hard, perhaps impossible, not to have “favourites”. Therefore, coaches must make a conscious effort to reach out and connect with players who are different from them. Some players are more challenging to talk to. Some are more difficult to motivate. Some are lighthearted while others are more serious. This is the nature of a team, and frankly any group of people.
We must strive to teach our players to love one another and accept one another’s differences. This is equally important for the coach.
4. Exceed the Energy & Commitment Level of your Players
Players know when a coach is all-in or going through the motions. If the coach’s energy level and passion are lower than that of the players, they will feel it. After a long day’s work (as most coaches are part-time volunteers) it is sometimes difficult to garner up the energy to lead the team. But it must be done. You are the leader, and as soon as the practice starts, all eyes are looking at you. If you want an energetic practice, you have to bring the passion. As coaches we expect the players to shake off the day’s problems when they step on the court, and as coaches, we need to strive to do this as well.
5. Always Be Prepared
Coaching is much more than just showing up and running drills. The preparation required behind the scenes is half of the job. Coaches may get away with running a practice, or even a few, “off the top of their head”, but they will not have the long-term results they want. Progress is slow and painstaking, so each practice must fit into the long-term plan and have its small purpose within that plan.
A minimum of 30 minutes, and more typically an hour, is required before practices to lay out the objectives and design the drills. If you show up without anything written down or organised, the team will pick up on your lack of preparation. They will even start trying to run practice, stating, “can we do this, or “can we do that”. If you come to practice with a specific written plan and let the players in on what you want to accomplish that day, they will take the practice more seriously. In general, they will be as focused and prepared as you are. Tell your team what you want to do, and why.
6. Know Who is On Your Team
This seems obvious. However, the parents and the sports organization are also critical parts of the team. In fact, anyone who supports the team in its overall purpose is part of the team. Some parents want total involvement and others not so much. However, coaches need to value their participation – be it big or small. They are invested with their money, their time, and mostly their hearts - in their sons or daughters’ development. They could make this investment elsewhere (different sports, different clubs, and various activities), but they chose you.
It is a serious responsibility. For the most part, parents appreciate updates from the coach on how their child is doing. The coach should also want to know from the parents, from time to time, how their child is feeling about the season and their progress. Let them in on your thinking. Otherwise, they will reach conclusions of their own that may or may not be accurate.
7. Communicate & Communicate Again
With every team, there will be some players and parents who want to know everything and some who can take it or leave it. It is critical that coaches communicate on a regular basis to both the players and the parents (as mentioned above). We know some athletes will read their emails and some must be constantly reminded. We understand some parents want to know everything about the sport and others prefer to sit back, watch, and cheer. We are aware some parents will volunteer, and some will not. Always assume the best and match your communication level to the most eager and involved players and parents.
You will rarely be criticized for communicating too much. Communicating too little is another story. Strive to engage the players’ minds and hearts throughout the course of the season.
8. Some Will, Some Won’t, But Keep Going Beyond
At the end of each season, there will be players who you feel progress significantly, and others not so much. Sometimes we fall short. There will be players who buy in fully and completely, and others who you just cannot reach. The goal at the end of each season is to have the players not want it to end. That tells you the work is worth it. Each player and parent will judge the value of the season for themselves. Some might be disappointed in the result or feel they did not progress as much as they had hoped.
Whatever the result, stick to your values, commitments and principles.
As a coach, you are a member of the team. A logical conclusion is that you need to have the same standards and accountability as any member of the team. If done right, you have the same payoff and reap the same rewards as your players. If at the end of your season, you can look in the mirror and say, “I went beyond what was expected”, that should bring you a feeling of pride as a coach. That is what we ask of our players, and that is what we need to ask of ourselves.