Call me whatever you want, but don’t call me nice. The first thing I think of when I hear that word is doormat. “Well, we have to be NICE to those players because this, that, and the other. So, we can’t enforce our rules all the time.” “We are short numbers, we have to be really nice so no one leaves.” “He’s a volunteer, we have to be nice.” “She’s a little too nice to be a coach.” “She acts like one of the players, she’s so nice to them.” “Coach is nice, he won’t care if we’re late.”
Nice carries with it the implication that we are flexible in our standards for the sake of being popular with our players. That we are willing to bend in our convictions for the sake of coddling someone who can’t handle their responsibilities. I’m not a nice coach. It is neither my intention nor my goal to be nice.
I have expectations that will be met by my athletes. I have boundaries. I have zero tolerance for things in my program. If necessary, I’ll remove a player from the roster. When the effort level drops I’m going to make sure the athletes are refocused quickly. If an athlete doesn’t follow through on their word, I won’t nicely ask them over and over and over because I’m afraid of rocking the boat or having players not like me.
While I am not a nice coach, I strive to be 100% kind. It is my intent every single day to bring kindness to my words and my actions with my players. If someone shows up and has a bad attitude I will not sacrifice kindness to get them to change their behavior. However, I won’t be “nice” either and let them get away with it because I don’t think they can handle owning their actions. I will take them aside, tell them I can see they aren’t where they need to be, that it’s not appropriate at practice and that they need to change their attitude immediately or go home and come back to practice when they’re ready to bring the athlete I know they are capable of being.
I’m not going to yell. I’m not going to shame them publicly. I’m not going to call them names or insult them. I’m not going to gripe sarcastically and hope they get my point. But I am going to hold to my standard, show them that I know they are capable of more, and be direct in what I need from them in a way that is not demeaning or humiliating. Because, my intent is for the benefit of the player rather than to vent my own frustrations or prove my leadership. My intent is that they have a great experience, that they grow, that they feel valued even when they fall short, and that they have the choice to self-correct or to leave. But they do not have the choice to lower the standard or culture of the team they have committed to be on.
Coaches can be incredibly kind, caring, and yes even love their players and have high standards and boundaries and the respect of their team. The options are not NICE vs MEAN. I could choose to be mean and have no standards whatsoever. I could shame my players, call them out in public, embarrass them, and change my boundaries and expectations to whatever mood I’m in and see my players fear that end-line with every misstep. But, mean doesn’t make someone a better or stronger coach. It just makes them a jerk who likes positions of power.
Infuse your beliefs and boundaries into your players with kindness and see the relationships you form with your team change in ways that make coaching fun again. Many battles come from power struggles, hurt, and misunderstanding. Kindness, direct communication, and care take down those walls and you’ll never have to choose between nice coach and mean coach again.