Here are five things I wished I never did as a coach, and what I should have done:
- I focused on outcomes (instead of learning): I was so competitive as a player, so naturally, when I started coaching, that carried over. Results mattered. A lot. I judged everything by whether we won or lost, not how we played, or how much we improved. When we lost, I questioned my players’ efforts, attitude, focus … you name it. When we won, nothing else mattered. Every practice and game is an opportunity to learn, and often in losing we become more reflective learners. It is an opportunity to allow all levels of learners the opportunity to grow. The objective for every young athlete should be to learn, as it promotes a growth mindset and prepares them to win later on in life when it matters much more.
- I focused on being serious (instead of enjoyment): “This is competitive sports, it’s not about enjoyment! We are developing winners!” How many times did that thought run through my mind when I started coaching? How many times did I look at my bench and not see smiling, happy young athletes, but dour, scared kids who no longer wanted to practice or play because they were afraid of losing, being yelled at for mistakes, and being benched? Too many. Instead, I should have put enjoyment first.
- I tried to inspire by demeaning (instead of being demanding): I tried to inspire athletes by demeaning them. I coached through sarcasm and personal attacks. I thought if they got angry enough, they would perform. Instead of being demeaning, I needed to be a demanding coach. A demanding coach expects more out of people than those people expect of themselves. They say, “good, now do it better.” They inspire performance by helping athletes find their inner greatness, instead of thinking that humiliation will drag it out of them. Demanding coaches make their athletes’ eyes shine, while demeaning coaches extinguish the fire.
- I took credit for the good and blamed others for the bad (instead of the opposite): I used to be very quick to blame my players for their poor effort, poor focus, and poor execution, and rarely looked at my own role in their losses. I judged myself by my intentions and my athletes by their actions. Instead, I should have given them credit for the success, and personally owned more of their failures. When you give athletes ownership for doing things well, they come back wanting more of that.
- I did lots of talking (instead of listening): I was pretty full of myself and my perceived knowledge and was certain that the more I poured into my players, the better. I was the sage on the stage. I gave all the answers, instead of asking kids “how can I make this better so you will play more?” I was very good at lecturing my kids when instead I needed to be a better listener. Sometimes our kid’s actions and words tell us they need a down day, some time off, or even to be pushed a bit harder.