• Home
  • Articles
  • Helping Coaches Look for Those Teachable Moments

Helping Coaches Look for Those Teachable Moments

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on April 23, 2021 hst Print

Within the realm of education-based athletics, the educational aspect for the student-athlete is critically important and fundamental. A major responsibility of an athletic administrator, therefore, should be to help his or her coaching staff to meet this objective. One way to accomplish this goal is for coaches to use teachable moments with their athletes.

As the term implies, this approach uses incidents at practice sessions or games, developments within the school or community, newsworthy happenings around the area or country or anything that can be used to learn lifelong values and qualities. The possible topics exist everywhere, and they can be introduced in little snippets, illustrations and brief lessons. These elements can be a very effective and beneficial form of instruction.

To help with this process, athletic administrators are in an ideal position to guide their coaches to recognize topics that can be used as teachable moments and to also provide hints as to how to use them. A common approach is for a coach to huddle his or her team at the end of a practice session to summarize what has been accomplished and what will occur the following day. During this culminating activity, one can quickly fit-in a teachable moment. For more involved topics, a special team meeting can be scheduled to inform and involve the athletes.

Looking back on this past year, there were several major developments, happenings or issues that enveloped and affected many individuals around the country. The issue of systemic racism and racial injustice certainly was front and center, major ethical breaches were reported and COVID-19 was certainly a major disruptive force – to mention just a few. These examples and others can be used as teachable moments, and they may be more important and valuable to interject and use in athletic programs than at any previous point.

Athletic administrators can also do their part and help their coaches by sharing any topics when they see or hear of them. Watching or reading the news, conference attendance, reading professional publications and conversations with colleagues are all good sources. And items discovered in this manner can be easily distributed by sending a simple email message to their coaching staffs. One would simply state, “Thought that this link or article would be helpful for use with your team.”

The following represent some common, obvious examples of what coaches can use with their teams.

  • Emphasize displays of good sportsmanship. While it may be easy to dwell on negative examples, and they may have to also be mentioned, it is extremely important to accentuate the positive ones. This can be a great form of reinforcement and a medium to encourage more such demonstrations in the future.
  • Point out when an individual exhibits ethical behavior or a high degree of integrity. For example, acknowledging an official’s call that is correct as opposed to blaming him for a loss. Or possibly a player owns up to the fact that he caused the ball to go out-of-bounds – not the opponent.
  • Recognize athletes showing compassion for an injured opponent. This effort could be as simple as helping up a fallen cross country runner – even if it means losing several spots at the finish line. When the athlete is asked why she did it, she simply stated, “Because it was the right thing to do.” It is important to point out and celebrate these positive situations.
  • Encourage players to support their teammates. During practice sessions, athletes should cheer on each other in drills. And in games, players should recognize and congratulate teammates for great plays and outstanding effort. Whenever examples of athletes demonstrating support occur, coaches should highlight them and this can be done simply by expressing, “Nice job, John, for encouraging your teammates!”
  • Affirm that athletes should be humble in a victory. This may take considerable work considering the actions of some athletes in the NFL and NBA who are highly visible to high school participants. It is as simple as adopting the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. And when your team is gracious and does not act in a braggadocious, obnoxious manner, recognize this positive step.
  • Convince young people to handle a loss with grace. Simply emphasizing the need to shake hands goes a long way. While it is normal to be disappointed after a loss, athletes should not throw a tantrum or place blame in reaction to a defeat. Coaches can and should provide the expectations of how to handle defeat. This should not be left to chance and coaches should reinforce a team’s actions, when it has done a great job of accepting the fact that they were not victorious according to the scoreboard.
  • Explain the importance of sleep and good nutrition. These two elements are essential not only for productive athletic performance on the field or court, but they are also key ingredients for academic success in the classroom. A coach’s quick comment in his post-practice meeting could cover this point: “Make sure that you hydrate and eat a balanced meal when you get home and then start your homework so that you can get a good night’s sleep.”
  • Ask athletes why they play their sport. Most, when given the opportunity, will probably state that they want to spend time with their friends, have a fun experience and learn new skills. A coach is in a perfect position to encourage and promote this approach while still fully preparing a team and striving to win.


While this is not intended to be an all-inclusive list, it does provide a good starting point. The topics that can and should be covered are practically endless. By being observant and extending a little effort, you can uncover countless meaningful and useful topics that may apply to your athletes and teams. Teachable moments can be a great medium to enhance the educational aspect of athletic participation.