The Coach

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the coach as a trainer or instructor of sport. However, as anyone who has been involved in coaching knows, the coach’s role extends far beyond that. Teaching players the skills, tactics and rules of the game, while important, is only one of the coach’s many roles. As a coach you must always remember that, while the physical skills you teach your players may only be used for a short time, the attitudes and values they develop towards themselves and others will stay with them forever.

Think back to coaches you may have had when you were a player. What sort of impact did they have on your life? There may be one coach in particular who stands out more than the others in your memory. What was it about that coach that sets them apart from the others?

Coaching is not just about improving the physical performance of a player. In taking on the role of the coach you must accept that the development of the player as a “whole” person is as important as the player’s success in sport. As a coach you can have considerable impact on the development and lives of your players. The role of the coach is wide-ranging and varied. At times you may be asked to be a person of many parts!

Teacher ... passing on knowledge, teaching new skills. Trainer ... improving players’ fitness. Motivator ... providing positive reinforcement. Manager ... organizing practice, planning competitions. Counsellor ... providing advice, settling disputes. Fundraiser ... finding sponsorship, running raffles. Friend ... providing empathy and support. Leader ... providing a philosophy and vision for your players. Disciplinarian ... being firm but fair.

Every coach should have a coaching philosophy.

A philosophy is a set of values or beliefs that govern your actions, help you make decisions and set your priorities. A philosophy is based on ideas formed from your personal experiences, opinions gained from the knowledge you acquire, and your hopes and aspirations for the future. Your coaching philosophy will reflect what you believe is your role as a coach. In developing an effective coaching philosophy you should consider the following questions: What are your reasons for coaching? Following are some reasons often given by coaches explaining why they coach:

• To put something back into sport

• To help others achieve

• Because they love the sport and want to stay involved

• Because they enjoy coaching

• To learn more about the coaching process

As part of the fair play philosophy it is the coach’s role to promote and enhance a positive self-image amongst players. Self-image refers to how people see themselves. This is influenced by the individual’s environment, their life experiences and also by the reactions of others, for example, peers, parents and, in this instance, the coach. Therefore, an important role of the coach is to be aware of their players’ self-images, to encourage them and to ensure they feel good about themselves. To achieve this coaches need to be positive with their players and communicate this effectively (using verbal and non-verbal language). When making positive comments or gestures, ensure you are sincere and realistic: the players will recognize and appreciate it more. Be consistent in your expectations, i.e. all the rules apply equally to all the players.

Remember also that children’s self-esteem must stand aside from their sporting performances. Whether they play well or badly, win or lose, they are still unique worthy people and the coach must always make this clear. Above all, accept that your players are individuals, be aware of their feelings and take an interest in their lives off the sports field. Feeling accepted should never depend only on their sports performances.

Successful communication depends on developing good people skills and showing a human face. If coaches want players to listen over time, they cannot deliver their messages with sarcasm or threats. It is important to maintain a positive and open communication channel with players. Ongoing and open communication will often deal with minor concerns before they become major problems.

Following are some important tips that will assist you in communicating more effectively with your players:

  • Demeanor Dress appropriately and have an open, Positive and enthusiastic approach.

  • Acknowledgement Greet participants warmly by name or by physical acknowledgement. Take the trouble to pronounce players’ names correctly.

  • Positioning In the coaching situation, ensure you can see everyone and they can see you.

  • Body Language Adopt a neutral body posture, facing your players. Also watch players’ faces and gestures for clues on how they are reacting.

  • Eye Contact looking your players in the eye shows sincerity and confidence.

  • Voice Speak clearly and use words at a level your players can understand, e.g. players who are new to the sport will not understand sport-specific jargon. Vary the tone of your voice to keep the interest up and adjust the volume according to the situation.

  • Listening tends to be one of our weakest communication skills. Being a good listener is an essential coaching skill. Listen carefully to players’ questions and comments and respect their views.

  • Feedback Have a positive and constructive attitude both when giving and receiving feedback from players.

  • Offer sincere compliments and encouragement, eg “that’s better”, “what a good idea”.

  • Remember, enthusiasm is infectious and, last but not least, having a sense of humor is a must.

Enjoy your coaching experience, I have found it to be one of the most rewarding things you can do.