A Coach's Responsibility
It is hard to believe that I have coached sports for over a decade. When I look back, I realize not only has it been that long but I have coached multiple sports such as football, basketball, track & field, MMA, soccer, fitness, strength and conditioning, and a very little amount of baseball. I never desired to be a D1 or professional coach, for many reasons, mostly because I didn’t want to uproot my family every 2 years for the next opportunity. There is nothing wrong with that ambition, it just wasn’t for me. As I continued to reflect on my coaching career, which isn’t over by any means, and reviewed my teams as a player and coach, along with the coaches of other successful teams, an important concept stood at attention.
There is an old adage that sports build character and I find that to be false. The game does not build character. The game can enhance character. What the game really does is reveal character. Now, there is another aspect to consider here. If sports do not build character than what does? The answer, the Coach. Of course, it all starts at home but parents aren’t (or shouldn’t be) relying on sports as the only avenue for character building. That job, with respect to sports, is left in the hands of the Coach.
As a Coach, I have not been wildly successful. The last three years have been my greatest achievement in terms of the win / loss column. Yet, that does not bother me. What makes a great coach is how he cares for and about his / her players. Touch a kid’s heart and the potential in life is unlimited. If you only focus on the athletic skills, you may win that championship but your name will be forgotten within five years as that athlete moves on to the next. When you focus on the individual and not the athlete, that young man or woman will never forget you, will forever love you, and will pass along the wisdom and love you shared throughout their life and their future family.
For all the coaches out there, can you answer these questions about all or most of your athletes:
1. What is their home life like? Poverty, riches, lack of parenting, helicopter parenting, at home by themselves, watching other siblings, etc.…?
2. What is their biggest interest outside of the sport you coach and what are they doing to cultivate that interest?
3. How many times have you gone to watch them participate in something besides the sport you coach?
4. What is their fear? Where are they worried? Who do they look to for approval in their life?
If you guessed right in answering these questions, that doesn’t count. Do you know based on conversation? These are just some of the questions that are of interest. Most coaches could probably answer this about their star player or their “favorite” athlete on the team, but can you answer these questions for each athlete? Yeah, you may have a 53-athlete roster, but there are only a few sports that meet that excuse. Even if you coach a sport with a larger roster, does that absolve you of said duty? I don’t think so. I think it means you find more effective and efficient ways to find out this info. However, the easy way to gather this info is by simply talking to your players.
When is the last time you spoke with your athletes about nothing? Just learning who they are as people and what makes them inspired, angry, apathetic, apologetic, and any other emotion you want to add. Take some time to get to know your players. For many of them, you will be the sole Father or Mother figure in their life. You may be the only person who cares about them and not their athletic skill. You may be the only person who sees them as more than an athlete. You may be the only person they trust to come to with a tough or horrible situation. Understand your responsibility to help mold better men and women.
As coaches, if we spent more time on the person, and not so much on the game itself, we would be better off. We would gain more satisfaction. Our efforts would never be in vain. We would be remembered and loved. Our life lessons would be shared beyond our lifetime. You would make an impact greater than you could ever imagine. Get to know them, as people. Guide them as people. They are a person before they are an athlete. Never forget that! Oh, and just for your information, when you actually care and show that you care about them, they come together and will run through a brick wall for you. It may not mean a championship, that is where the other side of coaching comes in, but you will be a part of some of the greatest teams never mentioned in the record books, yet, still a highlighted chapter in your coaching memoirs.