By Jim Krauel
America’s high school coaches are in the enviable position of being potential role models for America’s youth, and many people would argue that they are more capable of impacting the lives of students even more than teachers.
Teachers usually only see their pupils in a classroom setting, which is a somewhat formal and structured environment. On the contrary, coaches get to see their athletes daily in a more casual and personal atmosphere. They have far more occasions to have meaningful conversations and often develop close relationships with the athletes and their families. This fact can be a detriment or an opportunity depending upon how the coach chooses to approach it.
If the coach sets a negative example by behaving in an inappropriate or immature fashion, he or she has done a great disservice to the athletes, the program and his or her reputation. If the coach capitalizes on the opportunity, he or she can make a lasting impression on the young people in the program, and in a small way, can make the world a better place.
Here are a few simple methods that coaches can employ as they strive to make this world a better place:
Don’t be judgmental of the kids. It’s very had to do at times, but really learn how to “walk a mile in the moccasins” of all team members. It might be hard to tolerate a player who is exceptionally moody. All coaches have had players whose moods to seem to change on a daily basis. Realize that there are most certainly personal issues weighing on that player’s mind. Be thoughtful and warm on those days when there is a problem. This can be accomplished without coddling the individual. In fact, the coach can holler at the player during practice if necessary, as long as he or she spends three or four minutes after practice checking to see if everything is OK and offering an ear to listen. On these occasions, listen carefully to gain insight as to what’s going on and be a good sounding board for the player. Formulate some real plans on how the athlete can manage personal hardships. Sometimes, a coach is the very best role model some kids have in their lives. When that is the case, relish and embrace that challenge and tackle it head on.
Help athletes improve their confidence levels. Most high school kids, both male and female, are at an awkward stage in their lives where they outwardly pretend to be brimming with confidence while internally they are full of insecurity and self-doubt. Even the superstars on the roster are insecure as teenagers, and sometimes they are the most insecure of all.
Coaches should spend time speaking with their players individually, and as a group, about how previous players were scared about going off into the “real world,” but once they got there they blossomed. Let them know that it is OK to be uncertain about their short-term and long-term futures and work to give them a blueprint for long-term success. If coaches can help increase the confidence levels of their athletes, they can expect to find happier and more at-ease athletes while simultaneously reaping the benefits of having better athletic performances.
Strive to make sure that athletes feel “big time” no matter what sport they play. At most of America’s high schools, the football and basketball players are considered the hot shots on campus while members of the tennis, golf and other teams aren’t as highly regarded. A tennis coach, for example should remind his or her players that they are every bit as big time as the starting quarterback and they should carry themselves with the same countenance as the quarterback whenever they walk the halls of the school. Each time they take the court, they need to remember that they are representing our program, their school, their families and, most importantly, themselves.
NCAA Hall of Fame football coach Frosty Westering wrote an exceptional book entitled, “Make Where You Are, The Big Time.” In it, he describes how as a coach of a small college in the Pacific Northwest, he built a program that his players felt was “big time.” Westering managed to win a national championship with this philosophy, and other coaches should follow suit by working to ensure that their athletes feel like superstars whether they are swimmers or cross country runners.
Something else a coach can do that most teachers cannot is to spend “loose” time with kids when the practice or game is over. These times usually take place on the bus rides home from away matches. One possibility is “20 Questions.” Different people are appointed to sing, and team members and coaches get to know one another as people. Again, this provides coaches with an excellent opportunity to positively influence their athletes. Do they view the coach as an unapproachable and intimidating figure, or do they see the coach as a warm and likeable person?
If the coach has the ability to exhibit a good natured demeanor after a tough loss, it really sends a good message to the team. The message is one that conveys the notion of, “Hey, I really don’t like to lose, but when we do lose, we’re still going to embrace the present moment and have a good time on the way home.” The coach should not be someone who everyone is afraid to talk to after a loss. If so, he or she is missing an opportunity for teachable moments. The message the coach should send is this: Prepare to the best of your abilities, compete with confidence, vigor and passion, and win or lose with grace and dignity.
Coaches are in a very special and unique position to do more, much more, than just develop athletes. They should not take this responsibility lightly and should relish the relationships that are forged with their players.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Krauel has been the tennis coach at Sherwood (Oregon) High School since 2000. He has been recognized three times by the United States Tennis Association for his no-cut policy. He has also coached youth sports and in Special Olympics for many years. Krauel is a free-lance writer as well. He is a former member of the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee.