BEING A BETTER COACH
By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
Having a certificate and a plastic ID card that reads “Coach” does not make someone a qualified or even competent competition coach, especially if the only requirement to get that certificate was sitting through a four or five-hour class that had little to do with athlete development and was woefully lacking in academic substance or practical testing. But even if the national governing body (NGB) or certifying agency does not offer a comprehensive coaching development program, there is much that the individual can do to become a better coach.
Becoming a good coach is a balance of several factors, including but not limited to: years of involvement in the sport; practical experience in high level competition; extensive study and reading on human physiology and biomechanics; gaining a solid understanding of sports psychology and stress management; and most importantly, having a natural affinity for working with young people and helping them to become better athletes and champions.
As with competing at the elite levels, coaching is a passion and a vocation. It does not have to be a profession, in that it pays the bills, but it should be approached professionally. This requires significant time and commitment for the aspiring coach and is not without considerable expense. Talking to most successful and respected coaches, you will find that they have invested tens of thousands of dollars in travel, training and education to gain the experience necessary to become a national or international level coach.
But since this is a short article and not a book, the following are just a few tips on becoming a better coach.
TIPS FOR COACHES:
- From the first meeting, coaches must establish an honest and respectful relationship with their athletes. Respect is a two-way street, without which neither can build a productive and effective relationship. The first step is for the athlete to tell the coach precisely what he or she expects from the coaching, while at the same time the coach sets out what he or she expects from the athlete to achieve those goals. For example, if a young athlete indicates that they want to become a national champion, the coach may require that the athlete train five times a week. Without that level of commitment by the athlete and parents there is no realistic possibility of making the national team.
- A coach must learn to communicate effectively with athletes. This means learning the correct terminology of the sport and how to describe concepts and techniques in clear, concise biomechanical terms. An astute coach will know that individual athletes learn differently, so the coach should be able to describe or demonstrate the same concept, move or technique several different ways.
- To build successful athletes, a coach must be positive and upbeat. The goal is to develop confidence and enthusiasm in the athletes and a can-do attitude. This requires that the coach speak in positives not negatives. Kids grow up being told “don’t do this, or don’t do that,” especially if they have developmental issues. Eventually they don’t do anything or just tune out the adults. The coach must keep the lines of communication open by saying, “try doing this,” instead of saying “don’t do that.” In this manner, kids and athletes feel they are being helped instead of being scolded.
- A coach should avoid making comparisons with other athletes, students or siblings. Treat each athlete as an individual and work to turn weaknesses into strengths. In the early years of sports competition, avoid using terms such as “beating” another kid or “being beaten” in competition. The goal is to build an environment of healthy competition with oneself, focused on improving personal fitness, form and technique. It is also important that the athlete understand that without other teams and competitors there can be no game. This is a fundamental principle in judo, in that without training partners willing to be thrown, there can be no learning or training.
- The coach must always put the athlete before the sport, knowing that sports are just part of building a better person. For students in particular, sports must be balanced with other academic, cultural and social activities. Granted, an aspiring champion must be willing to sacrifice other social activities for training and travel, but it is important that coaches continue to encourage some balance in the athlete’s life.
- An observant coach should be able to ascertain what the individual athlete or team needs most. In other words, some people need support and reassurance while others need to be pushed and challenged. The very nature of competitive sports requires that the coach constantly challenge his or her players, but not at the risk of pushing a young child too hard or too fast into highly competitive arenas. Not everyone aspires to be a champion – some just want to enjoy the sport and have fun.
- One of the roles of the coach is to help the athlete work through the myriad of frustrations and plateaus found in sports and training, so must be supportive during the inevitable failures and setbacks. The coach must be empathetic to the players needs without mollycoddling the athlete. A coach, by nature, can be a little bit of a “hard ass” and sets the tone by always being on time and demonstrating equal dedication and perseverance.
- Through all this the coach should not hesitate to recognize effort and accomplishment. Sports are not all about winning medals. The most important thing for young athletes is striving to achieve goals and having the courage to step into the arena. In judo we value and reward effort, tenacity, perseverance, discipline, character, and the dedication required to improve oneself and help others. So even when there are no medals, still recognize and reward the effort.
To conclude, a coach must be a positive role model for his or her athletes by epitomizing gracious behavior and good sportsmanship. There is no room for bad tempers, tirades and tantrums in coaching. With time and experience a coach intuitively develops an instinct as to when to push hard and when to back off; when to be stern and when to be supportive. The coach must also share the aspirations and goals of the athlete. If the athlete has a desire to win, then the coach should share that desire to win. But if the athlete just wants to train and enjoy the sport, then the coach should respect and share that goal.
At the end of the day, or sporting career, the ultimate goal for the coach is to have helped develop better citizens, not just self-centered medal winners. Decades after their championship years are over, when the medals and trophies are collecting dust, former athletes should be able to look at a particular medal and fondly remember the coach that helped them win it.