5 Tips on Becoming a Better Coach
Coaching is fun, stressful, and extremely rewarding if you’re in it for the right reasons. I often find myself critiquing my coaching style and approach daily. If you’ve been around me or have talked coaching with me you will find that this is not something I take lightly. Why? Have you ever had an opportunity to positively impact an athletes experience and potentially life? This is why I work my hardest on ways to improve as a coach and teacher.
Here I have compiled five tips to help coaches that are continually looking for material that will help them along their coaching journey. By no means is this an end all be all list, but rather, thought provoking concepts and ideas that create deeper thinking than just x’s and o’s. Could the list go on forever? Certainly, but most that coach don’t have an unlimited amount of time for a novel, so I’ll keep it short. I hope these tips get you thinking and create discussion on various aspects of becoming a better coach.
1) Let them have a voice
Is it risky? Yes, but only if your group doesn’t respect you. Over the years I have backed away from taking control of every situation. With many of the teams and athletes I work with, I always encourage them to respectfully ask questions on what I teach and to speak up/voice their opinion if something doesn’t seem right.
I’ve always had the approach that allows athletes to voice how they feel or if they dislike something in their training. One rule- they must have a thought out explanation on why they dislike something. Why do I allow this? It’s a great way to get feedback on what we do during training and it gives them a chance to feel like they have more ownership of the team and their development.
Secondly, I want them to feel respected and have the freedom to express themselves. I think one of the biggest issues many coaches have, including myself at times, is not fully allowing a team(s) to have their own identity. Word of advice- if you keep a team from having their own identity it can negatively impact overall chemistry and success.
Third and most of all, I want them to have the ability to speak up when they get into the real world. When we are younger, we have no trouble speaking on what we feel, but with age, we get away from this. The power of expression is priceless. Let your team express themselves in their own unique ways, but make sure they respect you before doing so.
2) Know when to back off
Tip number two should come as no surprise, but there are times we can be overbearing or overprotective. We must learn to back off and let young teens have their independence with friends at practices or during competitions (depending on sport). I’ve learned that constantly checking in or helicopter-monitoring athletes often causes more stress than necessary. With younger athletes this may be an exception, but with older athletes, they don’t always need helicopter coach them. Be there for them when they need you, but allow them their freedom. They will thank, respect, and appreciate you for trusting in them.
3) Take time understanding your group and then adapt
Learning how to coach isn’t always about how well you can doodle on a white board or the world class pregame motivational speeches that could’ve been used in a movie. You have to understand the dynamics of your team and how to properly coach them. Sometimes when we think of coaching we don’t think about the intricate parts of understanding people, how to work with people, and how to communicate with people. Some of the best coaching seasons I have had have been from my ability to understand the needs of each athlete on the team and how to adapt my coaching style to each one of them. Having a bullheaded approach and trying to fit the whole team to your style typically doesn’t go over well.
I’ve always viewed coaching as a chameleon in the jungle. The chameleon has the ability to camouflage itself to fit the environment in order to avoid being seen by predators. If you do not adapt as a coach, your audience will make the season difficult, which may cause you to become overwhelmed by stress (the predator).
4) Communicate, communicate, and communicate
You must be a coach that communicates. It always baffles me when I see athletes during their training sessions and they talk about some of their coaches don’t communicate well with them. Not saying you have to be as smooth with your words, but I believe it is important to be clear with what you communicate. I don’t know about you, but I have had many jobs growing up. The jobs I typically disliked were jobs where there was a disconnection between management due to a lack of communication.
Coaches, the more you communicate with your team (good, bad, or ugly) the more you will find them opening up and expressing themselves. As a former athlete, nothing irritated me more than not feeling comfortable approaching or simply chatting with a coach because of their inability to keep an open line of communication with the whole team.
5) Have high expectations, but be realistic
This is something that all of us coaches need to be aware of. It’s easy to get excited at the beginning of a year. Some get overly excited to the point of making promises or setting unrealistic goals. Try your best to have expectations such as being on time, caring for teammates, never give up, and always keep the team goals in front of individual goals. These types of expectations are ways to build a program, if you’re a new coach. Promising to get to the playoffs or win multiple titles can come back to hurt you and your relationship with your team and parents.
As a coach, I never make promises because I understand how a season can change (learned this the hard way). What I do make is a conscious effort to always give the best of myself to the teams and individuals I coach; have high expectations that aren’t centered around wins-loses; and I always hold myself and my teams accountable for all actions. Promises are dangerous. Be realistic with expectations, but careful when make guarantees.
Kendrique Coats is the owner of Coats Performance, which provides speed training in Bloomington- Normal, Illinois. Over the years, Coats has spent most of his coaching time on the high school level coaching boys and girls track and field as well as overseeing strength and conditioning programs, which included stops at Pontiac Township High School in Illinois and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. Coats is also the former head track and field coach of Dallas International School in Dallas, Texas.