By Dale Hierlmeier
Coaches sometimes leave any glimpse of team philosophy in the locker room – pushing team-concept to the end of the bench and playing only the athletes who are capable of leading the team to victory.
Later, trounced by post-game feelings of anxiety from player neglect and anticipating the customary post-game barrage of parent complaints about playing time, starting roles and teamwork, coaches begin to search for a new approach to re-establish the acclaimed team model. The following ideas strive to incorporate team involvement, help to boost morale and encourage the team approach to better coaching.
Rather then using highlight players to demonstrate skill and conditioning drills, weightlifting technique or initiate new plays, coaches may choose to integrate developing players into practice sessions when appropriate. Emerging players will gain an enhanced feeling of team bonding and team contribution, and will grasp a deeper understanding of the learning process.
Obviously, correct mechanics and technique illustrations are best suited for the naturally skilled; however, distributing personal attention builds team chemistry, supports team morale and accomplishes the mission of team involvement.
Working with up-and-coming athletes individually or in a group – before, during or after practice – is first and foremost educational, plus it is a great way to show undivided attention, improve skill level and build team unity. Growing athletes appreciate individualized attention, the opportunity to strengthen weaknesses and the tips a coach can personally provide.
Coaches must take advantage of the individual talents that athletes bring to a team. Specialized skills, such as an exceptional vertical jump, may translate into rebounding expertise in basketball or jumping ability in track. Extraordinary sprint speed may carry over to base-stealing potential in baseball, or a strong kicking leg could be advantageous in soccer or on special teams as a punter in football. A baseball player may struggle in hitting, but may be a prime base-running candidate in crucial game situations. The point is that coaches must be cognizant of individual strengths and attempt to utilize team-wide abilities as game situations arise.
To foster roster-wide participation, coaches must strive to take advantage of game situations, which may call for substitute players to enter a contest. A time conducive to substitute players is dictated by the scoring margin of a game when victory or defeat is eminent. To the casual onlooker or especially a parent, emptying the bench in the last few seconds of a lopsided contest misses the opportunity to utilize the entire lineup.
If the coach has an opportunity to host an Open House, attend eighth- grade practices, attend junior high school events or visit feeder school classes, he or she is encouraged to have athletes in attendance and utilize those participants who may benefit from exposure from similar experiences.
Camps and Clinics
An excellent way to employ players who did not play much during the season is to invite them to participate in sport camps or clinics as instructors. Placing developing athletes in a position of authority as camp counselors, leaders or instructors builds the team bonding process, and inspires self-esteem and self confidence. Camp student leaders leave with feelings of enthusiasm and accomplishment.
While star athletes receive continuous press coverage, planned newspaper articles or radio interviews featuring individuals or groups of supporting team players is a great way to gain overall team coverage. Athletes who receive minimal playing time will cherish for years a DVD or scrapbook arranged by a thoughtful coach who is not only determined to provide individual attention but also striving to build team unity.
Featuring common athletes in athletic brochures, event sports programs or clinic flyers is an excellent to promote special team athletes whose playing time is compromised during the playing season. These athletes can be exposed as camp leaders, clinic instructors and team representatives listing individual athletic strengths, academic honors or years of camp involvement.
Traditionally, awards are earned by the athletes who carry the bulk of the load and are the statistical leaders. Keeping in mind that most players already receive a varsity letter award, coaches may have the flexibility to present a trophy, plaque, certificate or home-made award to deserving players. A ‘Coach’s Award,’ underclass MVP awards, Hustle Awards, Most Improved, Mental Attitude or clever awards designed with ingenuity by the coach, specifically for accomplishments earned through intra-squad competition, are alternative methods of acknowledging achievement by athletes who might not otherwise expect to be recognized.
Suffice it to say that talented players normally have a stranglehold on starting positions, and winning is the object of the game. The smart coach realizes that the team with the most talent isn’t always crowned the victor, that there is more to winning than shuffling X’s and O’s and that the intangibles, such as team chemistry, mental toughness, the will to win and player attitude can influence a team dramatically. The team approach to better coaching, which requires planning for ways to involve all athletes and team personnel in the yearly scheme of competition, is a great asset that can create an enjoyable winning season regardless of the final season record.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dale Hierlmeier, RAA, teaches nutrition at Ancilla College, Donaldson, Indiana. He is a former athletic director at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Indiana, and Saint Joseph’s High School in South Bend, Indiana. He is a 30-year veteran of the teaching and coaching professions, is currently officiating track and swimming and is a freelance writer.