By Chris Stankovich, Ph.D.
Most youth and interscholastic coaches understand that their job is composed of a variety of inter-related duties – from teaching kids about athletic skills, to helping them with off-field life skills (e.g., goal-setting, communicating effectively among teammates, and learning ways to handle failure and adversity). Because of the intimate and personal relationships coaches often develop with their athletes, it should come as no surprise that many kids look up to and admire their coaches – sometimes even more than they do their own parents.
Since most coaches go into the job of coaching because they are passionate about sports and love to work with kids, quite often they overlook, or even devalue, the overall life impact they have on their student-athletes. Problem-solving, joking around and talking about future life goals with kids all come part and parcel with the X’s and O’s of being a coach, making some coaches surprised when they later find out just how invaluable those personal experiences were for their kids.
While parents are ultimately responsible for the well-being of their kids, not all parents are fully invested when it comes to the relationship-building duties of raising kids. Coaches often fill in the gaps that exist in youth development as a result of absent parents, strengthening the coach-student athlete bond. Great coaches embrace these opportunities; enabling them to be mentors, teachers and friends to the kids they coach.
As a coach, there are a number of things to think about when working toward building strong relationships with kids, including the following:
- Before going into coaching, think about the tremendous impact you will likely have on the kids you coach. Unfortunately, not all kids come from intact nuclear families with both parents at home and fully invested in the development of their kids. Some of the kids you will coach will come from broken homes, poverty and dangerous living environments. In other cases, where the family is intact but seemingly not very invested in their kids, it is the coach who often picks up the slack by helping with rides, homework, and resolving conflicts and crises.
- The job of a coach is really a hybrid role, comprised of parenting and teaching elements in addition to sport instruction. Veteran coaches realize that the “X’s and O’s” are only a small part of coaching, and that relationship-building and development are paramount for a successful team to evolve. Ultimately, as coaches help with off-field issues and life situations that kids experience, stronger relationships develop, further strengthening the parent/teacher role they perform informally.
- Coaches need to be prepared for crises, as well as being called into unique situations. It is not uncommon for a student-athlete to reach out to a coach when he or she is in trouble, nor is it unusual for coaches to help out kids who may be experiencing relationship problems, academic concerns or even problems with the law. While these duties are not formally listed under the job description, they are routine issues coaches often deal with when working with kids.
- Coaches who help kids identify and use their athletic skills for life success often develop very strong relationships with their student-athletes. As kids begin to realize that skills like goal-setting and communicating effectively with teammates are skills that go beyond the athletic field, they often develop stronger and more personal relationships with their coaches. They begin to feel valued as people, and not simply athletes.
- Coaches who work at keeping alumni athletes involved with the current team will likely continue to be seen as an important mentor to their former players. It is not uncommon for former coaches to be invited to college graduations, weddings and various other personal experiences. While the coach no longer wears the hat of “coach,” his or her former players will still view the coach as an invaluable person and resource.
Being a coach today can be an exciting and enriching experience, and perhaps the best part of it is the wonderful lifelong relationships that can be developed by helping kids on and off the field. For many coaches, their guidance and leadership provided to kids is looked at as simply “part of the job,” leaving them surprised when they find out later in life what a dramatic and positive impact they had on their former players.
About the Author: Dr. Chris Stankovich is a sports performance counselor and educator and an advocate for positive youth sport development. For more information on educational products and seminars, please visit www.drstankovich.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.