By: Steve Bridge - Elma, Washington
We are all aware of the importance a coach plays in the life of young adults and now, maybe more than ever, we all need to take a step back and think about what we say and how we act. All coaches have such influence on kids today. Do we spend time thinking about our message? Do we take time to think about how important our role is when interacting with our youth? How often do coaches spend time actually evaluating their impact on our kids and the value the daily interaction can provide in the direction kids take in their life? "Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten.” Your words and actions do matter. An Athletic Director’s role is to guide coaches in being a positive role model.
Last fall my 4th grade grandson decided to play tackle football for the first time. He had wonderful coaches who had all the right intentions. After every game, I would ask him did you have fun? His answer was usually yes, but after a close loss he said to me “Grandpa, it is usually fun but at half time our coach used the “F” word 4 times.” He continued, “I’ve only heard that at school and I know you would get in big trouble if you said that.” Really? 4th grade? As a first year player, does he now have a mind-set of this is how it’s done and this is what coaches do and say when they get upset? Let’s remember the reason we decided to coach and that approximately 80% of kids quit organized sports by the age of 13. We need leaders and coaches to encourage involvement and not attempt to relive their own personal athletic experiences. Remember, coaching, like parenting, for the most part will be conducted in the same manner you were coached and how you were raised. Change only occurs with mentoring, training or other forms of new information.
Each year the NFHS (National Federation of High Schools), conduct surveys throughout the country reviewing not only the number of participants in programs offered by associated high schools, but also into the key components as to why kids play. Included are things like: being with my friends, staying in shape, parents wanted me too, etc., but the number one reason identified year after year, is both boys and girls say they play to have fun! For the 18th year in a row, NFHS participation numbers are up with the exception of football. We all know the issues football is facing and coaches have even a more difficult time just getting kids to play. Do our words and actions help keep kids involved or are we discouraging them?
Another significant factor the role of a coach plays is in the family dynamics of athletes in our country today. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Coach Grant Teaff, former Baylor University Head Football Coach and Athletic Director, discus this topic. His key point revolved around the number of players in our schools coming from fatherless homes. The following are a few national statistics regarding this issue:
Youth today need guidance, structure and discipline and one of the best places for them to get this training is on athletic teams. Again, if one believes all the statistics from the national and state levels, athletics is the number one component in helping with academic success, reinforcing kids staying in school and helping form skills to assist student success after high school. As my mentor Cliff Gillies, former WIAA Executive Director, used to say, “Instead of kicking kids out of school, we should assign them to an athletic team!”
Coaches all have these kids on their teams. The need for male and female role modeling may never be more important than it is today, and for many kids in programs, that modeling is the coach. The game of football needs positive leaders and coaches who work hard to make the experience a positive, learning opportunity for our youth. There is a reason why it is called “Extra-Curricular”, because athletic participation provides learning opportunities outside of school, and reinforces learning inside of school.
John Gordon in his book The Power of Positive Leadership states positive leaders drive positive cultures. Culture is not just one thing; it’s everything. Culture drives expectation and beliefs. Expectation and beliefs drive behaviors. Behaviors drive habits and habits create the future. In your belief system, ask yourself two questions: “What do we stand for?” and “What do we want to be known for?” This will help to identify the culture you want in your program’s teams.
As an athletic director for 25 years, I learned over the course of those years that my primary job became to be the liaison between our coaches and parents; the person in the middle to assist our coaches with the negativity often associated with irate parents. My universal comment would be “Don’t put me in a position where I can’t defend you.” Try to do the right thing and you will have support. Does that mean you can’t hold kids accountable? Absolutely not! But it will be your words and their intent that will be remembered. Here is a reminder: If it can’t be said in a classroom, then don’t say it! In another Gordon book, the Energy Bus, he states that when a person allows his or her ego to get behind the wheel of the bus, be careful; it doesn’t always end up where it was intended to go. Whose needs drive the vehicle?
Can I trust my coach to be fair, consistent show benevolence and demonstrate he or she cares about an athlete as a person and not just a player? Kids must be able to trust their coach, and not just in the heat of the game. It means all the time. Do your actions meet your words? Do the kids believe that when things are hard and not going well, they can trust their coach because he or she has their back? Bruce Brown, in his pamphlet “The impact of Trust” has athletes discus trust and how it relates to their performance. One example listed is:
“Playing for coaches that I trusted was not only more enjoyable, but also much easier. When an athlete doesn’t trust a coach it causes them to question their judgment and motives, even during competition. To perform at the highest level, an athlete needs to react in situations as if they are second nature and with confidence. Anything short of that can spell the difference between success and failure.”
Gordon refers to those “not connected” as energy vampires and they suck energy not only from the team, but also from the coaches. They may be the constant complainers that bring nothing but negativity to the table. A simple rule for these people is “You are not allowed to complain unless you offer one or two possible realistic solutions.”
Coaching and coaching coaches can be the most challenging and rewarding experience of one’s life. Use your time and talents given to make positive changes in the lives of our kids and to create a lifetime of memories. After all, isn’t that why you are involved in athletics?