Sure Valentine's Day is around the corner so maybe I'm feeling sentimental.
Or, I just read too many blogs where the focus is on everything other than the relationship between player and coach.
Today, I want to explain why coaching anybody, in anything, need not start with fundamentals or x's and o's but with a good ole fashioned heart to heart.
Have you ever gotten feedback from a boss about what he/she would like you to change? Maybe it's something you should start doing? Or maybe feedback to quit doing something all together.
For most of us, we'll nod in agreement and diligently give our attention.
What happens next, though, seems to be a flip of the coin. I'm not saying that 50% of people won't apply the feedback. But, 50% of people may leave the conversation feeling beat up, put down, or under appreciated.
Of course, we're generalizing here, so something may have been said or the feedback tone may well have warranted that type of reaction. But, let's assume that didn't happen.
People generally feel that way because they don't fully trust the person issuing the feedback. They don't whole-heartedly respect the boss. And the reason for that is they often don't know that person very well.
The Youth Coach
Switching gears a bit, basketball tryouts are coming up for your 5th-grade daughter. Nobody volunteers to coach so you do so because you want your daughter to have a positive experience. Maybe a part of you relishes the time together.
After a few practices, you tell your spouse, "The girls have been great listeners. This isn't so bad!"
Often in youth sports, just being "somebody's mom or dad" earns you instant respect. Some of the girls on the team have been over to the house in the past to hang out with your daughter. There's a level of trust and respect there, despite the fact that you maybe know four girls by name.
In many ways, it's a beautiful attribute of children. They give you respect without much effort on your part.
The High School Coach
You're a varsity basketball coach. You have no sons or daughters on your team, and each year, new faces show up to tryouts trying to catch your eye.
You will know "some kids," and you may know a parent, uncle, or youth coach that is in their circle.
What you don't know are the kids themselves. And that's where the work begins because these kids aren't going to automatically respect you because you're standing there.
Whether you've been at it forty years and have a tradition that speaks for itself or are just getting started, the relationship with your players supersedes everything.
And it starts with love. Step one may be identifying the kids that love the game like you do. Out of a roster of 12, you may have 4 or 5 like that. And they may not be very good. But, they love being around the gym, they give their best effort, and they bring you joy because they share that enthusiasm for the game.
Step two is getting to know each kid. How can you really coach someone that you know nothing about? Some might say, "I coach them all the same!" And for those coaches, I say, "Good for you."
But that's not me. I want to understand who these kids are, what makes them tick. I want to show them that I care about them. And frankly, I want to give them the opportunity to pick me apart a bit too. I want to ask them what their goals are. When some say, "I want to play college basketball," my natural response is that I'll promise to do everything I can to help them achieve that.
Once we have a relationship, it's my job then for those that have goals to be upfront about what needs to be done. Essentially, this is the plan. This is how I see your game today. Here is where it needs to go. I have a plan to get you from A to B.
What happens next is where I'll probably lose most of my audience.
We go to practice, and I coach the kids hard. I instruct, I yell, and I push them harder than they want to go. When it's over, many of them hate me.
For some of them, this lasts a season. For others, multiple seasons. (and I'm not implying that it's all business for an entire season).
When it's over, though, we cry. We miss doing what we did. The players magically seem to acknowledge that they love me back.
They come back for alumni events, and some that stay local even ask if they can volunteer coach.
Being A Great Coach
Being a great coach starts with loving your players. And you love them by getting to know them.
You love them further by acknowledging their goals for their life and the role you might play in those.
Finally, you love them by demanding what it takes to achieve those goals.
If you're a coach reading this, never forget why you're there.
If you're a parent, give your coach a handshake and thank them for loving your kid.
And last, if you're a player, understand what this relationship can be. Get to you know your coach; share your dreams. It could end up being the greatest relationship of your life.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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