As coaches, we often want our athletes to be self-motivated, driven and to hold themselves accountable for their own actions. We want this because we know that it will not only help us win more but also make our lives easier with fewer headaches and hand-holding. Rarely, however, do we set them up for success in the ways that we should. We train our athletes at practice and send them off to deal with the world and all if it’s temptations and time-wasters without the skills to overcome and succeed despite them. This may be the job of the parents, you say, but if the parents haven’t done their job then it’s your job– if you want to build a championship program that is.
1. Goal setting- most don’t understand goal-setting but this is a skill that, if learned and implemented, will frame their entire lives. Their goals and the action plans that they develop for them will govern their actions when you’re not around (wouldn’t that be nice!).
2. Identify strengths and weaknesses- Your own that is. Know yourself and you’ll better be able to serve your program. Build around your strengths and develop your weaknesses through reading, attending seminars, asking questions or, if possible, hiring.
3. Ownership- Remember when you got your first car? Remember how you treated it so much better than you treated your parents car? That’s because it was yours. Give your athletes ownership of something. That can be having a say in team rules, voting on team issues (captains, what time to practice over Christmas break, etc), or responsibility for maintaining the facility.
4. Let them talk- This tenet reminds me of a story I read in a psychology book. The same rules were set for 2 groups of people. One group was permitted to talk about what rules they wanted and the other was not given the opportunity to add their input. When surveyed after the exact same rules were in place, the group that was permitted to voice their opinion, even though those opinions did not influence the rules themselves, was much happier and much more accepting of the rules than the other. How can you let your athletes voice their opinions?
5. Teach to their learning style- Of course, this is Teaching 101 but many coaches tend to ignore this simple yet powerful concept as being a touchy-feely, soft way of leading a team. We have a coaching style that helped us learn best and that style is often most comfortable for us to teach from. However, our athletes learn in different ways. The magic of legendary Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable was not the fact that he pushed his athletes to the breaking point like so many think. Instead he learned to reach each athlete in his own special way to bring out the best in them so that he could push them to be their absolute best.