Defining Our Purpose

Each year we are presented with an opportunity to provide growth-filled experiences for the students we coach. As we begin another year as a coach of education-based athletics and activities, take a moment and reflect on this question: ”What will you give the students on your team this year that will sustain them beyond the physical aspects of the game you coach?” You can best answer this question by reflecting on the following four questions:

  1. Why do I coach?
  2. Why do I coach the way I do?
  3. How does it feel to be coached by me?
  4. How do I define success?

Why Do I Coach?

We spend a considerable amount of time on the technical and tactical aspects of the sports we coach, but there is so much more to consider. Joe Ehrmann, author of “InSideOut Coaching,” states, “Coaching shouldn’t start with the X’s and O’s but with the Y’s. This WHY should be a clear and concise statement defining the impact we are trying to make in our players’ lives. WHY directs the expenditures of our time, energy, and effort and provides a final destination. Answering the question ‘Why do I coach?’ can help a coach identify selfish agendas and develop a purpose that transcends personal, vocational, financial, or ego-driven needs. WHY prompts us to answer the questions of when and how to use the power of coaching to affect players for their lifetime.”

A clear Transformational Coaching Purpose will assist us in focusing first on the students we are entrusted with to grow and develop as human beings instead of just improving them as athletes. For this to happen, we must not only write our Transformational Purpose but also develop strategies to bring it to life in our program every day.

Why Do I Coach the Way I Do?

Coaches have an incredible opportunity to dramatically influence their students’ lives. Take a moment and think back: How did your high school coaches impact you? We can name the coaches that we couldn’t wait to spend time with and those whose practices dragged on, those who were heroes in our lives and those we despised. Why do you coach the way you do? How have the coaches in your past impacted the way that you coach today? Look in the mirror. Good or bad, how much of how you coach is based on what you learned from them?

Ehrmann defines the coach who strips away fun as a Transactional Coach, one who uses questionable tactics, manipu­lation and threats to achieve their goals. “When players perform well, they are rewarded. When they don’t perform well, some kind of punishment is inflicted, be it yelling or the withholding of praise, playing time, or participation.”

The coaches we aspire to be are Trans­formational Coaches. Ehrmann defines these coaches as those who inspire, motivate, and produce positive change in their student-athletes. They understand the needs of young people and “offer individual support and encouragement for each player and have a clear vision for the desired impact on their players’ lives. And not surprisingly, a Transformational Coach, even in organized athletics, allows and encourages their students to simply play.”

Spend a few moments and think about the coaches you played for and identify the experience. Was it a Transactional one in which you only got something when you proved your value and worth, or was it Transformational, an experience from which you consistently grew? Now that you are the coach, what type of experience are you providing the students who play for you?

What does it Feel Like to be Coached by You?

Identifying whether we are Transac­tional or Transformational will determine how it feels to be coached by us. Students who have played on a team will remember the time spent with their coach and have stories and memories of their experiences. Through every experience and interaction, we are creating pathways in our students for future responses, solutions, and at­titudes. Positively or negatively, we will forever be a part of each person’s life that we have had the privilege of coaching. We are leaving our imprint on the students we interact with for a lifetime.

What will our coaching legacy be with the students who played for us? Will it be a legacy of Transaction or Transformation? Will it be defined only by the outcome on the scoreboard or more intentionally by the process and the path that we experienced together? Much of this is determined by how we define success.

How Do You Define Success?

Success can be determined in many ways. Unfortunately in our culture, it is most often only defined by the outcome on the scoreboard. Our job as educators is to make students aware of additional possibilities. Ehrmann urges us to “define success before we measure it. If we mea­sure ourselves against ourselves, we can determine if we are truly successful. This is especially important in our ‘win at all cost’ sports culture where success is defined only by winning and in the vast majority of situations, we are left to feel that we didn’t measure up.” Focus your definition of success on the aspects of coaching we can control: Improvement in performance rather than our record, providing a fun environment for participation, and making our students better people, not just better athletes.

Defining Our Focus

As coaches, we know there are important lessons to be learned through participation in high school athletics programs. Let’s face it, with less than three percent of our students going on to play college or profes­sional sports, we are not providing these opportunities to help them get scholarships or professional careers. A greater and more important purpose of our programs is to provide opportunities to make ethical, car­ing, empathetic people. It is an incredible opportunity and responsibility, one that we as coaches need to approach with conscious intent. We have the power over young people to either do a tremendous amount of good or a tremendous amount of harm.

Choose intentionally, define your pur­pose, reflect on how it feels to be coached by you, and why you coach the way you do. Commit to making success about the growth of your student-athletes and not the game’s final score. Give students the positive experience we longed for as young people when we were involved in high school sports.