Are you Expendable, Coach?

It’s not talked about but it’s implied, and we all know it goes on. Coach turnover. It’s so common place that most high school leagues can’t keep up with their coach contact list, you email the AD for scheduling questions because you don’t know who the opposing team’s coach will be this year, and every year there’s new faces at the All-Sport meetings.

Part of the equation is due to coaches getting burnt out, sick of it, ready to get back to their family time and stop being under constant attack and scrutiny. The other side is just flat out coach removal, whether it be inappropriate methods of coaching, poor communication skills, parent forced removal, or just not being engaged enough to fulfill a purpose.

I hate to say it, but with the two sides of that coin, we just aren’t seeing those 10-20 year coaches happening very often anymore. That means, your next coaching job may be short-lived. Unfortunately, that feeds into the problem, because now coaches more than ever are feeling the crunch to be successful and establish a raport in the community right away. Would John Wooden be allowed to take 16 seasons to win a national championship in this day and age? Probably not. What a shame that would be!

What does this mean for you? It means your job is in jeopardy. It means that you have to approach coaching in a way that fits our modern day and age if you want any sort of longevity with your program. It means you better be really good at more than knowing your sport because there are lots of people behind you who know the sport.

Here’s my list for the traits of a coach that will be able to securely and confidently hold onto his or her program, be less prone to burnout, and be highly sought after in the world of coaching:

  1. Know who you are, what you stand for, and why you coach, why kids will be better after being led by you. Scratch that, don’t just know it. Own it, live it, be so about it that others could describe it just from watching you interact with your athletes, parents, and even people on the street.
  2. Be a model not a speaker.  What you do is going to be believed and valued 10 fold over what you say. No one wants to sit there while you get on your soap box about culture. Live it and make decisions that reflect it and you’ll never have to step on stage or become a lecture hall main feature.
  3. Get to know your team, your players, and their families. What’s their learning style, what are they going through right now, where do they need assistance, what is their relationship to authority figures, how do they like to be praised or corrected, how is their self-esteem, how do they relate to their peers, teammates?
  4. Listen. Listen more. We love to hear ourselves talk as coaches (and we’re pretty brilliant so why wouldn’t we!?) Even coaches who listen to their players pretty well don’t always hear or process the information. If it’s important, it’s a good idea to ask to set up a time to talk when distractions are at a minimum. Keep a journal, remember to check in on players occasionally, schedule times for general check ins or to call players or parents just to let them know what they are doing well.
  5. Feedback in both directions. Give feedback but frequently ask for feedback as well. Even the best communicators can’t guess what perceptions are being built in their audience. Find out how your communication style is gelling with your players. That means parents and administrators too. You don’t have to agree with all the feedback but if there’s a theme, there’s something there. Try to be open to growing and improving.
  6. Find out what’s important to your players, and to their parents and make sure you mission addresses everyone’s needs and not just your perception of the program’s needs. You may be surprised what is actually valued and what is less important.
  7. Practice belief. Belief in what your players are capable of. Belief in what you are capable of. Belief that anything can be overcome or serve for the greater good in the big picture. Belief that behind any behavior there can be a root that can be addressed, nurtured and served for growth. Build an environment where your players and parents know that you’re in it for the long haul, that you are willing to work it out, you are committed to finding solutions.
  8. Take down the walls. Build a structure and guidelines for communication and stick to it, but don’t build walls around certain questions. Kids are still learning to communicate, allowing parents to help them learn those skills alongside them when needed, rather than eliminating them from the equation is better for the athletes in the long run. This also helps avoid that game of telephone (coach said, player said, parent said….with the message being skewed by perspective or emotion- driving miscommunication, anger, hurt, or confusion)  Instead of parents communicating for, trying letting them communicate “with” when needed or just getting the back story so they know how to talk to their kids.
  9. Remember why you coach. If you ego is taking over, if your self-worth is tied to scores or records, if you start feeling like you have to keep telling people your resume to get respect, then you may have forgotten your reasons for coaching. Or maybe, coaching kids isn’t the right fit for you. Keep your why at the core of every decision you make, becuase temptations to veer away from that will be present all the time.
  10. Reset. You’re going to mess up. Admit it when you do. Don’t wait. Make that phone call. Talk to the team, talk to that parent. Ask forgiveness and be human. And return that forgiveness easily and genuinely with your team when they need it as well. Teach them what it looks like to be humble, caring, and vulnerable, even as a leader.

Don’t be expendable, basic, or just that coach that knows the game.  Be GREAT.


Leave a Reply