Coaching is a rewarding, yet challenging career. Simply having tactical skills and knowing a sport does not, on its own, make you a good coach. As a coach, you are part teacher, part strategist, and part counselor. Taking some time for self-development can have a huge impact on your effectiveness, no matter what sport you coach. Here are five ways to become a better athletics coach.
1. Learn how to set effective goals
Developing a set of clear goals and expectations is vital to managing a successful team. Goals should focus on more than improving win records. Accomplishing training and academic goals will improve the overall performance of your team. Setting challenging yet achievable goals can improve the performance of an entire group.
Goals do not necessarily have to be long-term to be effective. Try setting practice-, or even drill-specific goals. Communicate these goals to each student that you coach, and explain why you’ve chosen a goal. Teaching young athletes to set and achieve goals is one of the most important skills that you can provide as a coach.
Goals do not need to be set in stone. As improvements are made, or unforeseen challenges come to light, goals can be revised to reflect these changes. It’s important that your goals be specific, and that team members all understand their role in achieving them. It can also be helpful to set goals for each individual athlete that you work with, and to customize these goals to focus on their needs and strengths.
2. Create a team culture
Athletes often perform better when they feel like they are a part of something. Developing and fostering a positive team culture can keep athletes motivated and maintain a high level of synergy. A culture is really a coach’s philosophy put into action. If the focus shifts solely to winning, teams become fragmented and it’s easy for both coaches and athletes to get frustrated.
Negativity, unhealthy competition and poor sportsmanship can all lead to the downfall of a program. Find ways to communicate the strength and uniqueness of your team. Encourage each member to become a part of the team’s identity, and take pride in being a part of something bigger than themselves.
Even if you coach an individual sport, you can help the athletes that you work with seek out comradery, encourage other athletes and compete positively.
3. Provide consistent feedback
Feedback can take many different forms, but without it, athletes don’t know what to keep doing, and how to improve. Remember that feedback is not always expressed in words. It is easy for athletes to pick up on frowns and hostile body language. Young athletes don’t instinctively know what they need to do to perform at their peak-level, and this is where consistent feedback comes in. This feedback should be both positive and constructive. After a loss, it can be difficult to point out the positives, but that’s your job, as a coach.
Yelling and harsh feedback rarely helps athletes improve. This doesn’t mean you should ignore mistakes, it just means that they should be used for instruction, rather than punishment. For example, “Great hustle. Here’s how you could do this even better.”
Athletes are all humans, and they all respond differently. Feedback should be individualized, whenever possible. Some individuals like to be praised in front of a group, while others respond better when feedback is given one-on-one. Even if each team member is not performing at the same level, finding ways to encourage individual improvements can lead to better cohesiveness.
4. Keep an appropriate sense of perception
When you are surrounded by competition, it can be easy to lose perspective. Getting distracted by the importance of a big game, or the loss of a key player can become so overwhelming that it becomes all-consuming.
Good coaches understand that keeping the game in perspective is key. Every athlete that participates in a sport is gaining something. You have the ability to maximize the rewards for each team member. Letting your self-worth get tied up in the performance of a team actually minimizes all of the hard work put in by the athletes. Being a coach is just one element of who you are. Along with providing guidance in a sport, you are teaching competitors how to deal with success, and disappointment.
5. Never stop learning
Enjoying the technical aspect of a game is an important attribute for a coach, and the best coaches continually learn more about the sport that they love. Just like the athletes that you work with, continuing to hone your skills will lead to positive growth. Reading, continuing your personal education, seeking out resources and discovering what’s working (and what’s not) in other programs will help you to improve your game, and that will only benefit the athletes you coach.
Our Master of Coaching Education online program helps coaches build their abilities by teaching advanced technical proficiency, tactical knowledge, and leadership skills. Our graduates are equipped with the technical and leadership skills important to maximize team performance and ensure a lasting coaching career.