A Coaches Story
The concept of a coach is not to be an athlete’s friend but rather be a mentor, a role model, a guide, an educator, a motivator and someone who is willing to give up personal gain for the greater good of that athlete. Too often, particularly surrounding young talented athletes, sport and performance coaches alike seek to befriend the athletes rather than be their coach. They listen to their music, regardless if it has value or not… they use vulgar language right alongside them rather than curb it… they worry about taking pics with them, naming them and then claiming that athletes own work ethic for their own success… they even encourage poor behavior by talking to the athlete past experiences to show how “cool” they once were… and the list could go on and on…
Athletes do not need a lot of coaches nor a lot of influences in their life; they need the right ones that are willing to stick by them in times of good and bad. In order for a coach to be able to fill that need they must have the athlete’s interest in mind and not their own nor their business/brand/image. With all that said I pose this question… How can a Coach be a Coach if they are a peer? The answer is you can’t.
1. Teach them something… earn their respect and trust by investing in their future.
Nothing says you “care” like sharing knowledge from the littlest details to the biggest life lesson. Every piece of information you can provide them the more money you are putting in their athletic career and life. As a coach our job is to be a leader the way and good leaders do two things: one, teach them everything you know, do not hold back; two, try to work them to take over your job.
The question is how do you know your teaching, your coaching, is getting through to your athletes??? Observe how they interact with other athletes. If they are helpful, if they can provide cues or corrections then you know it is getting through to them. However, if they are forgetful or do not take interest in others that do not know then you know your coaching is not getting through to them. If this is the case change your methods to reach out to them individually but DO NOT give up on them.
2. Sacrifice… do not be a coach when it is convenient to you, do it when it is not.
Gratitude isn’t a natural response to adversity but rather a discipline one must develop. Coaches must be able to put aside what’s best for them in order to replace that with what’s best for the athlete. Often times the two mesh and are one-and-the-same; however, when the two do not mesh the choice the coach makes is life altering for both coach and athlete.
A coach struggles with long hours, constant adjustments, motivational speeches, low pay and high stress through each day. The option to be pessimistic over the situation is easy but that is a reflection of poor leadership and will eventually turn the athlete sour. Do not be the dark cloud but the light that brings passion. Remind yourself that it is your vision that fuels your passion. That vision is why you started coaching in the first place and is the reason behind your ability to coach athletes. Once your line up your passion you as a coach will be unstoppable. As a mentor your passion will help redirect your athletes vision, which in turn will allow them to be successful in any situation.
3. Out Work Them… in every facet of life.
This doesn’t mean look down upon them but rather give them inspiration and motivation to work harder. Those who work hard will prosper in all that they do. Learning work ethic at a young age is vital and for athletes a reminder of “what it takes” is a daily requirement. It is like gas, without it the car will not run.
A coach’s job is to “change the attitude” of the athlete so it becomes work driven. Here are a few real-life examples / lines that I often use in interactions with athletes:
- “Do you want to be like everyone else? No… then do not do what everyone else is doing.”
- “You can’t? You are absolutely right… but if you decide to say you can, well then, you are right.”
- “Are you complaining? You are wasting your energy. You are making a choice to be here if you want to leave go ahead but you will regret not learning how to push through.”’
- “You need to be ‘process’ driven not goal driven. Once your goals are set focus on the process that it will take to get you there. As you get closer to your goal it will only get harder.”
- “Your biggest limitation is yourself.”
These may not fit your specific situation but if you are a coach each of these may sound somewhat familiar. You are requesting from your athletes to push more, to do more, to be more. So, are you holding yourself to that same standard? Are you fully engaged in their training / practice / game or are you distracted?
A coach’s job is to teach athletes the value and successes of hard work. In order for that to happen the coach must adopt the “those who work hard will prosper” attitude. If you as a coach do not have that attitude then you need to change it before you expect your athletes to change it.
“A youngsters Heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it away” (Pr 22:15).
4. Discipline Thyself… to instill discipline you must be disciplined.
You ask your athlete not to swear, but you do. You ask your athlete to focus on details, but you don’t. You ask your athlete to be on time, but you are not. You ask your athlete to push through pain, but you will not. You ask your athlete to sacrifice, but you have made none. These are all examples of a coach’s hypocrisy. “Do what I say and not what I do.”
Similar to changing the culture of a team that saying needs to be “do what I say because I already have.” In the bible it talks about the power and importance of discipline. Discipline is number one when it comes to love. “For I love you so I will discipline you.” Similar to raising children discipline must be shown, taught and dictated. Yes, I said it, dictated. Solomon says, “He who loves his son is careful to discipline him” (PR 13:24).
Lastly, to be a coach means to be consistent with no excuses. One excuse that needs to go is time; a coach says “I do not have the time.” Well stop making excuses regardless of time limitations because that athletes future is in your hands. “No excuse is a good excuse.”
5. Be Consistent… with all things you say, do and most importantly how you treat someone.
The biggest flaw of a coach that is self-serving is they only focus on the super star, the athlete that has a division one scholarship and the athlete who shows the most athletic prowess. The reasoning behind this is to draw close to the athlete to increase their own marketability. Those coaches will be the first to take pictures and highlight that they train that athlete. Check out their social media platforms, check out their website and just listen to them talk. A coach should be able to manage a super star while investing equally in to all other teammates / athletes in the rolodex. After all, it’s a choice, so change your attitude.
In order to be consistent as a coach you must not only show but teach that athlete how to be consistent. If their goals are high achieving then they may need special treatment but not to highlight their own talents, nor the coaches, but rather to provide them with the tools to succeed. To succeed you must stay focused on what’s important and pursue your goals without wavering or hesitating. As a coach, this success is dependent on your preparation for the athlete. What you ask from them, demand from them and show them. Do you do what you say 100% of the time?
Threats are harmful and meaningless. In fact, threats often show athletes, kids for that matter, that there are loop holes and not all actions have consequences when in fact that is false. Rather than making threats promise consequences that are followed through 100% of the time. 100% is the key, no matter what because only through consequences will athletes be taught an attitude of gratefulness in the midst of adversity. No matter the difficulty of the situation athletes will have been provided the tools to manage their way through the situation.
Gratitude isn’t a natural response to adversity; it’s a discipline one must develop through consistent action. Coaches, you aren’t their friend until you are done coaching them. This is a very important trait to remember. You do not have to be the cool coach, you can be, but you do have to be the honest one. If they are engaged in behavior that is detrimental to their goal, their craft or their life “tell them.” If they are engaged in actions that are not productive “tell them.” If they are performing movements improperly “tell them.” And on the flipside if they are performing movements properly or engaged in activities that are positive “tell them.” The development of an athlete is often predicated on having an open and honest dialogue with their coach so do not sugar coat what you say to protect their feelings, just tell them; you will become the “cool” coach and those athletes will develop an attitude of gratitude towards you. How cool is that?
6. Lead… by example, there is no other way.
Coaches, like parents, can drastically affect the life of a child, teen and young adult through constant love. Yeah, love. But as the bible says “he who loves his son is careful to discipline him.” Taking this one step further, “he or she who loves thyself is careful to discipline thyself.” What you ask of your athlete must be in the scope of what you would do or what you have done before. You say “eat health,” yet you put down French fries in front of them. You say “give 100% effort,” but you as a coach rushed to put a practice plan together. Living by telling needs to become living by doing. Lead through failure and success. When they fail, you fail, but if you highlight the lesson from the failure then you both succeed.
Coaching is a unique profession because no other career does two persons successes fall completely on the same line. The first step of leadership is to overcome fears and to begin with the understanding that the closer we come to our goals the harder the path will become. I said “ours” because the goals of the athlete must become the goals of the coach, not the other way around. The athlete’s fears become the coaches fears but the coach must transform the athletes attitude to “you can do anything that you are afraid to do.” The right attitude can overcome anything, no matter how big the barrier is, but beginning is one of the hardest parts. Once you get going things will get easier but as you get closer to your goals things will become increasingly more challenging. Paul Harvey says it best, “you can always tell when you are on the road to success, its uphill all the way.” Patience will become a requirement but anything that requires time means it requires work, which means it is worth it. Coach, get off your butt and lead the way, for the success of your athlete is dependent on you internalizing their goal and guiding them to it.
7. Be There… when things get tough, not when things are easy.
As a coach we have the power to become more through the actions, reactions and concern we show for our athletes. What if I told you that you earn an athletes trust by what you are willing to do for them outside of the sport and not in the sport? It’s true. Gaining an athletes trust by showing you are about more than training takes down walls thus making their coach-ability ten times higher. You become a walking example, a role model, of what discipline and work ethic look like to them while showing how to put others needs before your own (i.e. transcend selflessness). However, being there doesn’t mean you become soft on them, pamper them, or even allow them to have an excuse for poor decisions and actions. Modern day parenting and coaching is flawed because we think showing concern means allowing them to perform poorly and then telling them it is ok. Wrong! “He who loves his son is careful to discipline him” (PR 13:24). Being there means you discipline them (i.e. love them), be honest with them and put them through difficult workloads. “Softness is a condition that can only be cured through pain and hard work.”
“I am there, every day, to train them, to coach them, to mentor them…” If they mess up, get in trouble, make a poor decision, talk back or perform any other act of non-favorable action then you, the coach, needs to love them harder. “Love never fails” (1Co 13:8 NIV). Don’t let someone’s actions dictate your reactions. Anybody can be there during times of glory and success but it takes a true coach to stick by during times of defeat and destruction. Your success as a coach is your ability to influence your athlete because a program is only successful if it can be implemented.
The emphasis of ‘during tough times’ is the most important focal point. All poor actions should be followed by concerning reactions, which turns the negative to positive. Anybody can be there during times of glory and success but it takes a true coach to stick by during times of defeat and destruction.
8. Motivate them… team and personal motivation.
Self-motivation is the only true form of motivation that lasts, that transcends, that is legendary. A coach can be motivated but if the athlete is not then all programs will fall flat. Therefore, a coach’s success is 100% reliant on their ability to get their athlete(s) to commit to the process. The process is nothing more than an uphill road that requires an unwavering focus on the end goal, success. As the process gets longer and success draws nearer the more obstacles and bumps will get in the way. Coach’s must continue to motivate through leadership and stewardship while utilizing every obstacle is an opportunity to demonstrate grit and grace.
Journalist William Hodding Carter wrote, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots and the other is wings.” Roots are provided through love. Wings are provided by faith. Give your athletes roots through training, discipline, care and by being available. Give your athletes wings by mentoring them through failure, success and work ethic. Through faith in thyself combined with a will to compete or the will to win then they’re halfway to success. On the flip side if you neglect them or fail to teach them to have faith in themselves then they are halfway to failure.
Paul Harvey writes, “you can always tell when you are on the road to success. It’s uphill all the way.” The uphill road is long, painful, difficult and tests an individual will. It requires the right attitude, which can overcome any barrier. An “I get to” versus an “I have to” attitude. This kind of an attitude is learned not given and requires one to stay focused on what’s important while pursuing their goals without wavering or hesitating. The coaches position is unique and a gift because they can be the vessel that provides each athlete with that attitude.
As a coach we can break down motivation in to two categories, team and individual. Team motivation is possible through work ethic and consistency. Work ethic by a coach means they will stay later, be earlier and even mix it up with the athletes. Prove to them that there is no job they will not do nor is there no job that they have not done. Consistency because you demand the same, you treat everyone the same and you respect the same from the top to the bottom player. Nothing destroys team motivation like having multiple standards for your athletes. In fact, the super star athlete should be held to a stricter standard so outside influence does not ruin their attitude. Individual motivation can be achieved by simply being available. This doesn’t mean available by telling them what they want to hear but rather telling them what they don’t. Holding them to a standard that is disciplined by teaching them how to outwork all of their competition. It means listening to them when they are struggling (in sport or life) and re-grounding them when everything is going right. Moments of glory are short lived but moments of struggle are long-winded; how you focus on the struggle is what leads to the glory; and too much focus on the glory will lead you to the struggle.
I have coached athletes from the professional ranks to as young as 3 years old. The ability to communicate and motivate has always been something that I take pride in. I chose to become a “hard ass” so that I may teach others how to out work others. In the process athletes realize that success is not an object in which you can obtain but rather a chosen path in which one choses to live their life. This “purpose driven” attitude keeps athletes moving forward and breaking barriers down like they are foam blocks. Both team and individual I believe that leading by example, do what I do and what I say, is the only way to help athletes achieve success.
In the process I have realized that the generation has changed. Parents and kids are softer, more sensitive, by thinking because I yell at you I am “mean.” However, this cannot be further from the truth. I choose to be consistent with my expectations so that my goal for the athletes is not higher than their goal for thyself. That my vision of work is in line with their vision of work. Their attitude of “I want” will line up with their work ethic. A quote that I attach to every email I send is “softness is a condition that can only be cured through pain and hard work.” Some often laugh at it while others think it is ridiculous. Not me. Softness is an epidemic that has struck the modern-day teenager and young adults. It is an entitlement mentality that teaches you to do the bare minimum while expecting everything. This does not prepare them for a life of exception but rather sets them up for a life of mediocracy.
My intent is to pick up where modern-day society leaves off. Choose discomfort over comfort because personal growth happens with discomfort. The tool of hard work and discipline is not taught with credit cards and servants, it is taught with pennies and labor. Our attitudes have become so poor as a society that a “free ride” has nearly been coined a “right” by our government, modern-day parents and media. I choose to go against the grain and coach to provide athletes with success both in and out of sports. Developing the athlete as a whole versus simply for sport is a core value of mine as a coach. This value does not waiver, does not bend and neither should my attitude towards choosing what’s right versus what’s cool.
My intent is simple, help any athlete become a successful person first and a successful athlete second. It is not a popularity contest of me telling athletes of my life, of my career but rather listening to them and guiding them while showing them that “true love is discipline.”