The Power of Coach

Each year we are presented with an opportunity to provide growth-filled experiences for the students we coach. We show up prepared to give the students we interact with much of what we think they want and need. In a recent video, produced in partnership with the InSideOut Initiative, the MSHSL, MSHSCA and MNIAAA, called the Parent’s Playbook, students shared with us why they play, the value of mistake making, pressure, and whether or not they think they will become professional athletes. As I sat down and listened to them share their perspective, I was awe-struck by their wisdom. It made me sit back and reflect on the enormous opportunity education-based athletics can and should provide and the incredible power adults have to make a difference. I became acutely aware of the potential that exists to change the trajectory of each students’ life who participates in high school sports. Listening to their stories, I was also made aware that this opportunity doesn’t just happen. It happens because their coaches were aware of and intentional about this immense responsibility.

As we begin another school year, are you coaching from a high enough purpose?  Are you being as intentional about your student’s social emotional development as you are their physical skill development?  Take a moment and reflect on what you will give to, and develop in, the students on your team this year. This personal reflection should begin with 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. Coaching shouldn’t start with X’s and O’s but with why. Your WHY should be a clear and concise statement defining the impact you are trying to make in your students’ lives. WHY directs the expenditures of your 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 students for their lifetime.

The first step is writing the Transformational Purpose Statement, but this doesn’t ensure your purpose happens. You also must develop strategies to bring it to life in your program every day. What are you intentionally doing to develop skills that will sustain your students beyond the physical skills of the game? How are you marking and etching character into the lives of the students you coach—character that will help them to become better people, not just better athletes.

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 you couldn’t wait to spend time with and those whose practices dragged on, those who were heroes in your life and those you 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?

There are two types of coaches. Transactional coaches strip away fun, use questionable tactics, manipulate and threaten students 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. Transformational Coaches are coaches who inspire, motivate, and produce positive change in their student-athletes. They understand the needs of young people and offer individual support and encouragement and have a clear vision for the desired impact on their students’ lives.

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 your team will remember the time they spent with you and will have stories and memories you helped to create. Through every experience and interaction, you are creating pathways in your students for future responses, solutions, and attitudes. Positively or negatively, you will forever be a part of each person’s life that you have had the privilege of coaching. You are leaving an imprint on the students you interact with for a lifetime.

What will your coaching legacy be with the students who played for you?  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 you experienced together? Much of this is determined by how you 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 teacher-coaches is to make students aware of additional possibilities. We must 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 most often by winning and in most situations, we are left to feel that we didn’t measure up.  Focus your definition of success on the aspects of coaching you can control improvement in performance rather than the record, providing a fun environment for participation, encouraging moving outside of comfort zone which often results in mistakes, and making 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.   Face it—with less than 3% of students going on to play college and less than 1% professional sports, we are not providing these opportunities to help students 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 and be intentional about giving it life, reflect on how it feels to be coached by you, and why you coach the way you do. Commit to making success about more than the final score; make it about the human growth and development of your student-athletes. Give students the positive experience we longed for as young people when we were involved in high school sports.