3 Ways to Become a Quality Coach
Updated: Jul 31, 2020
It's not hard- anyone who grew up involved in sport can easily tell you about at least one coach who significantly shaped the way that this person grew up and the adult they would eventually become. So now that the power is in your hands, how do you become that life-changing coach?
There is so much literature on how to become a great speaker or how to practice child psychology. There are countless books on effective babysitting and parenting techniques- and there is extensive scientific research behind the mechanisms involved in the physical realm of sport. So why do so few people know how to combine all of the above?
The truth is, the be a truly life-changing coach, you have to master (or at least constantly attempt to improve yourself in) 10 areas according to the International Olympic Committee. But I went even further and made it even more simple- I divided these into 3 completely separate jobs:
1. Become Your Sport's Aficionado
2. Learn Child Psychology
3. Get familiar with Motivational Speaking
It's a difficult mixture to master- some might say impossible. But therein lies your problem. It's no secret- there are way too many lazy youth coaches out there. To them, if perfection isn't attainable, isn't even worth the struggle to become great. A huge percentage of the population that call themselves "coaches" are missing at least one, if not more, or the qualities that they need to be truly exceptional. The problem is, we aren't just talking about volunteer soccer dads here: we're talking about certified professional coaches, too.
Here's the bottom line: as the coach of young people, you are instrumental in the development of these kids. You have the opportunity to shape them, mentor them, and provide for them whatever they aren't getting enough of at home or school- it's a huge responsibility, and a tough balancing act: between being stern enough to be respected and kind enough to be confided in.
1. The Sport Aficionado
Life should be a constant pursuit to gain as much knowledge as you can- it's the reason that a bachelor's degree is almost the new standard these days: people value knowledge. The more time you spend learning about your sport, the more competent you become all-around as a coach. The best leaders are those who are constantly looking to soak up knowledge from the people around them. Sport is constantly changing, and to keep up with that consistent progress, you can't remain stagnant.
The Sport-Aficionado is goal-oriented: this is the part of you that knows how to win and what steps to take to get there. This is the key element that causes you to talk with your students about what their goals in the sport are- and how you will both work to achieve those. Being observant is key- watching the sport helps to create new ideas for success within it (obviously). This is the part of you that knows the rule-books inside and out, and stays focused on the ultimate task: teaching a child a sport.
How do you nurture the Sport Aficionado in yourself?
Read the latest news about your sport. When it comes to figure skating, Ice Sports Industry (ISI) has countless resources on their site for everything from rink operations to instructor training. The ISI handbook serves as my #1 resource for everything ice. Every rink usually has one with their Skating Director, but I personally think that every coach should own their own copy (you can get it here). It's one of the best investments I've made. The U.S. Figure Skating site is another great place to find resources: everything from athlete bios to schedules and results.
Watch your sport- figure skating can be hard to keep up with, but NBCSports has finally made it easier than ever to watch every event from wherever you have WiFi. Set up ESPN to send you mobile notifications pertaining to your sport, so you're always the first to know.
2. The Child Psychologist
This one is rarely acknowledged but absolutely critical. This is the part of you that is patient and respectful of your students. The Child Psychologist makes the young one feel listened to, nurtured, and supported. This is the side of coaching in which you form a bond of trust with your students that will allow them to come to you and confide in you when life gets tough or they need help. This is the life-saving part of coaching that allows you to be there to intervene if your student comes to you to talk about serious problems at home or at school. Here is where you take a look at your student to see what they're getting at home and what they need more of on the ice (or field or court etc.). Do they have parents that focus a ton on structure- so they need a little room for creative wiggle? Or are their parents too relaxed with them, leaving the child with a need for consistency?
This part also deals with the parents. Ah, yes, parents. Our favorite. I know way too many coaches who are either terrified or majorly annoyed by the parents of their students. In reality, that person (or those people) sign your checks. Keeping them in the loop is actually good for everyone. After lessons, I like to see the parents to talk about what we worked on so that (1) they know they're paying for something that's actually happening, and (2) they can be more involved in their child's life if they chose to. Sport can be a fun way for parents and kids to bond in weird ways- and it also provides you with an opportunity to tell the parents (very subtly) what their child might need a little more of. For example, with an uptight parent, you might take a more laid back approach, whereas with an absentee parent, you can suggest some ways for them to get involved in the sport (and thus, their child's life).
How do you nurture the Child Psychologist in yourself?
Read. Read. Read. Whether it's online or in books, immerse yourself in knowledge. This site has an up-to-date list of interesting child/developmental psychology articles to keep you informed about the latest discoveries in the field (in an understandable, interesting way- you're welcome).
3. The Motivational Speaker
This one can get really tough in the face of competitions or frustration. When you're in the middle of doing the same drill or exercise for the fiftieth time and it's still not what you wanted, this is the test. Can you stay positive? Can you communicate clearly in the face of stress and struggle? And can you maintain your enthusiasm in a way that's contagious?
When I think of this aspect of coaching, I think of every sport movie ever. I think of the talk in the locker room before the big game, or during that crucial half-time. We Are Marshall's "We Cannot Lose". Miracle's "You Were Born for This". The Blind Side's "Charge of the Light Brigade". And there are so, so many more. Just thinking about how inspiring those speeches are literally gives me goosebumps. I literally have goosebumps while writing this. So...
How do you nurture the Motivational Speaker in yourself?
Get inspired. TED talks are obviously the gold standard for motivation. Or there are countless celebrity videos. Heck, you could just hop on YouTube real quick, or watch any number of the movies listed in the article linked above. Inspiration is everywhere- it's up to you to find it.
Now this isn't to say that I'm the perfect coach; I'm far from it. It just gives you an idea of the goals that I strive to achieve every day, and the kind of environment that I think all children deserve to learn a sport in.
It's easy to forget when you're in the middle of a session- but the example you set and the way that you guide your students is going to stay ingrained in their minds and hearts for countless years to come. So not only do you owe it to them, but you owe it to yourself to be the best that you can be.