Taking time to reflect is often one of the greatest challenges for all of us in life. It seems the wheels of life keep spinning faster and faster and we are always on to the next thing without ever looking back. Case in point is taking pictures. Ever since the invention of smartphones with cameras, we seem to snap off thousands of pictures in a short period of time. I am always amazed how many of us watch some very memorable events through the lens of our camera and then how rarely we actually take the time to look back at the photos. Maybe they are posted to social media, but most will just take up valuable storage space on your phone or computer. Then comes those rare opportunities where we look back at the photos we actually took and it is amazing the stories those photos tell. For coaches in education-based athletics we can learn a lot from this simple, yet important skill of reflection.
In Joe Ehrmann’s book Inside Out Coaching, How Sports Can Transform Lives, Joe presents us with four essential questions to ask ourselves:
- Why do I coach?
- Why do I coach the way that I do?
- How does it feel to be coached by me?
- How do I define success?
I have always believed that the most challenging of these questions is to answer how it feels to be coached by me. First, it causes all of us to really examine the impact we have had on each athlete throughout the course of the season and secondly, it challenges us to come up with a way to really get honest feedback.
Great coaches take the time to not only ask for feedback from a variety of sources, but they then put together an effective action plan to address the areas in greatest need of improvement. For years as an athletic administrator I heard the same frustrations from coaches anytime they reviewed anonymous parent surveys. Some were usually happy and some were not and others were in the middle. In order to get more specific and useful feedback, we changed the focus and broadened the audience.
The focus became less about the “what” and much more about the “how.” Each program drafts questions around this idea and then seeks out the feedback from multiple groups—including student-athletes, assistant coaches, game officials, trainers, opposing coaches, coaches from other sports, athletic administrator and parents. In addition to traditional surveys, our most effective coaches have also sought feedback from one-on-one meetings, small groups and reviewing video of themselves in practices and games. Some of the most honest and helpful feedback has come in the form of exit interviews with students graduating or leaving the program as well as their parents.
The bottom line is there is no one way that works for everyone, so each coach and program needs to determine what method works best for them. More important than the method is what each coach does with the feedback they receive. Specific action plans with measurable goals and objectives have proven to be very beneficial to many successful coaches. So as your next season comes to a close, ask yourself how it felt to be coached by you, determine how you will find out the answer and then put together a plan to keep improving. If you take these steps there is no doubt that when you reflect back and take a look at the pictures taken during the year, you will smile because the stories they will tell will be much more impactful in the long run than your won-loss record.