By Daryl Dotson
“Are you that stupid,” shouts the football coach to one of his players.
Now how do you think that player feels? I know this young man; he comes from a single parent home and gets little positive support at home. And then he has to come to practice and be called stupid.
There are three key areas of a student-athlete’s life to which coaches need to pay very special attention: home life, student-athlete interests and student-athlete goals. If coaches focus on these areas, they will be on their way to being a positive coach and positive influence in their student-athletes’ lives.
A student-athlete’s home life is the No. 1 factor to consider when developing a relationship with that person. Where does the kid live? With whom does he/she live? Does the kid have a positive or negative relationship with his or her parents?
Putting yourself in the student-athlete’s world will give you a huge advantage in being a positive influence in their lives. A parent of an athlete called recently, asking for help with his son, who had become really disrespectful toward his parents and was starting to not turn in schoolwork. The father explained that he and his wife wanted me to be that third positive influence in their son’s life and to help him make good decisions for himself. It was apparent that my role as a coach was a very important one and that people were always watching me.
One of the real pleasures of coaching is having conversations with my athletes about their interests outside of sports. Some have very detailed plans for their careers or are interested in something totally outside of sports, such as cooking. One young man told me that after he was finished playing college baseball and football, he wanted to become a coach just like his role model! Talk about making my day.
What we do as coaches really matters – whether it’s good or bad has an effect on the kids we coach for a lifetime. Some students may not have anyone else in their lives to whom they can talk openly. If a kid is willing to share with you about his interests or concerns, why not listen? You could make a huge difference in this young person’s life.
Goals have been a major part of my life; my former coaches started this process for me at an early age. It is very important to know our student-athletes’ goals because we can hold them accountable when things start to get a little tough for them.
A student told me he wanted to be a Division I football player. After several conversations, we formulated an action plan for him to achieve his goal. He has worked very hard to achieve this goal, though he still needs to be reminded at times what that goal is. But he is not afraid now to tell me what is going on in his life – good or bad.
Before we start judging the kids who we coach and writing them off, we need to find out about their home life, their personal interests and their goals. If we are willing to walk a mile in their shoes and get to know them, that goes a long way toward building a positive relationship with the student-athletes, and positively affecting their lives forever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daryl Dotson is the head softball coach and business and technology teacher at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa. He has been a coach for the past 13 years and has coached football and wrestling in addition to softball.