People get into coaching for many different reasons. I’d like to think it’s because they really love children and would like to see them reach their full potential in life, not just in that particular sport.
And our family loves sports. Currently we have three girls on a cross country team, 12 kids on four different swim teams and four boys in football on three different teams. Oh and ballet. And theater. And… I probably forgot something but whatever.
The point I’d like to make at the beginning of the season for all those given the incredible responsibility of coaching is just a few reminders before the games begin…
Please, don’t just pick the talented kids on your roster and coach them. You pressure that kid into carrying the whole team and you inadvertently tell the rest of the kids on your team that they stink. Coach the whole team. Pay attention to and develop each kid to their fullest potential. Sure, little Amy may be the slowest seventh grader running cross country in the county– but if you encourage her and take the time to really coach her and train her you may find that by senior year she is a district champ! But if you ignore her and just pay attention to Speedy Gonzales — she’ll quit because she thinks she’ll never be able to measure up to your expectations even though that is completely false. Every child placed under your coaching has incredible capacity and promise…it’s your job to bring it out of them.
I know coaching is hard, I have my own team under my roof 24/7 and the demands are high for sure. Performance is one way to measure success but many times as a coach if you only look at results you could be very discouraged at your team’s progress. The hardest things to remember to measure are often the most vital. Like attitude— that kid who came to practice even though they were sick. Their performance may have been spotty but they showed up, and gave it their best. That kid who failed a test…beaten down in his own mind, he still showed up. He still gave his best TODAY. Maybe it wasn’t his best ever, but many times kids are struggling so hard inside that if we only measure by seconds and sets we will miss the real effort that even showing up took.
Families are struggling. I’ve been shocked many times at how a coach will take a kid’s performance so personally without considering for a minute what that kid might be going through. A teenage girl lips off at coach and he berates her in front of the team. Man, I know it’s awful when a kid takes a shot at you in front of everyone– but did your pride not let you stop and think WHY would this kid do that? Oh yeah, her parents are separated and heading for divorce. That could be a piece of it. Or maybe she’s not only dealing with divorce, but bad grades, flip flopping identity, her boyfriend dumped her or worse– the rumor mill at school and snapchat or instagram has blown up with her most embarrassing photos!
What about when you ask a girl WHY she missed practice in front of the whole team? Is she supposed to blurt out in public that her periods are so bad she passes out and pukes every month? Or when you demand WHY the child didn’t respond to the team practice time change you sent via text– are they supposed to tell you and the entire team they lost their right to a phone because they got caught looking at porn?
I KNOW, I know. You’re just a coach and you’re doing your best. You didn’t sign up to be guidance counselor and school nurse and parent liaison all at once. You just liked this sport and thought it would be great to see some kids give it a try. And dealing with us parents almost requires a full time assistant because we are so demanding and whiny and frustrating every day. I get it. My husband has coached and we’ve been a part of so many teams and seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
But that being said, please remember, these kids are more than their performance on any given day. The sum total of their worth or priorities is not wrapped up in the sport you are there to train and encourage them in. Some kids may be the future Olympian of the sport you are coaching (and wouldn’t that be a thrill) but some kids are just trying to survive the year and the voices in their head that tell them they suck which you inadvertently agree with every time you berate and belittle them.
You can not emotionally manipulate a child to incredible success.
You can not berate or humiliate a child to try harder.
You can not scare someone into stardom.
Yeah yeah yeah… you gotta be tough, I know. But you gotta THINK before you go off. You gotta really consider each kid and their situation. You gotta take the time to ask and talk to them. You gotta pay attention to the kids who show up for practice with huge duffle bags because on Wednesdays they switch homes and go to Dad’s for the weekend. Or the kid whose monthly payment is always late…because his parent can’t always choose the sport over milk for his little brother. Or the kid who is constantly loud begging for attention, because no one ever gives it. Or the girl who is painfully quiet because no one ever asks her opinion.
Because coaching a sport is never just about the sport or the coach. It’s all about those kids. And how you will teach and train them to overcome despite all the challenges they face at home, at school, or even just in their own minds. You may have to get on to them. It may be necessary to crawl their case from time to time. But you must be wary of their individual circumstances and what kind of position you place them in especially in front of their peers. And you also have to remember that YOUR voice will be the one they hear as they try their hardest to compete. And if you have berated them, embarrassed them, or ignored them, don’t be surprised at their lackluster performance. They are only accomplishing what you told them they were capable of.
***I would like to say that we have been blessed with so many great coaches over the years. I hope only to encourage coaches this season to be mindful of the circumstances that may be surrounding the children’s lives. I am grateful and appreciate every ounce of effort and tireless practice and drills our coaches put into our children! So many times there are unspoken circumstances surrounding a child’s lackluster performance and as a coach, these can be difficult to discern, but please be careful. You have tremendous opportunity to help and encourage these kids through their toughest growing up years. Love to every one of you and may God bless your every effort out there on the field this year!