Your coaching philosophy should not be developed overnight. You should gather different views of coaching the way you would visit a buffet—choosing and trying different methods and observing what works for others, as well as remembering certain techniques that worked (or didn’t work) for you both as an athlete and a coach. Once you have gathered what you feel is right for you, then try it out. You will no doubt have to throw out some beliefs, but others will become the backbone of your coaching style and success. When putting your philosophy together, remember to look for tools that will cover what is important in a team, that is, how to lead a team to success and how to make the most of the game for everybody.
Sometimes you will find yourself playing a role that fits a situation but that you cannot support in your heart. I find these situations in coaching to be rare. The coach who follows her heart and does what she believes is right will come out ahead. Athletes are smart, and they spend a lot of their time trying to figure you out. They will test you, push you, pull you, and see what they get from you in return. If you try to respond in a way that is truly not you, they will see through your facade. They want you to be genuine, just as you want them to be genuine.
Many first-time coaches want to do a great job, and thus, they put on a serious face when they hit the field. They see coaching as strictly business. Sometimes they hesitate to let down their guard and laugh with the athletes. But it’s important to show your full personality when coaching. The athletes want to see that you are real so they can relate to, trust, and confide in you. As a coach, you are their teacher, their friend, their confidant, and you sometimes serve as their parent. You must be honest with your athletes and your staff if you wish honesty in return. So when in doubt, be yourself and listen to your heart. You will not always be right, but at least you can say, “I did what I believed was the right thing to do.”
You must develop and follow your own coaching style. It is good to have mentors but not to imitate them. If you look at successful coaches, you will see that each one is different. Some are quiet and use their body language, while others are more vocal. They motivate in different ways as well as teach with different tools, yet all have found success. Their diversity shows that there is no one way to coach. You must find what will work for you from within yourself. By all means, learn some coaching techniques from others, but build them into your style.
Be Willing to Listen
As a coach, it will benefit you to become a communicator and to recognize the needs of your team and balance those needs with yours. Open communication is critical between the coach and the athlete and among the athletes. The coach should encourage everyone to express themselves honestly about team standards, feelings, and expectations. Encourage your athletes to communicate both their compliments and complaints. An open-door policy demonstrates to everyone that you are interested in seeing how the team members are doing and feeling.
Coaches expect the athlete to listen to all directives, but a coach must also possess a keen ability to listen. Listening shows that you care what your team members are saying and that their thoughts and feelings are important. The athletes should feel comfortable expressing their opinion when asked. I try to make it clear that there are appropriate times and places to address issues on which an athlete does not agree with the coach. If an athlete disagrees with something I have done, or wants to question a coaching decision I have made, I prefer that she comes to me to discuss her concern on a one-on-one basis. Because this discussion is about my thoughts and hers, it should occur away from the team.
Athletes often find it difficult to approach their coaches with questions that require a clear yes or no answer. I’m not sure why this happens, but it may be the result of an intimidation factor combined with the obvious fear of hearing the dreaded “no.” It is my philosophy to say yes whenever I can. If an athlete comes to me with a legitimate question and is passionate about something that she is proposing, then I will back her by saying yes. As a coach, I know the athlete has certain wants and needs, and by working together, listening, and asking, a win–win situation is created.
Touch People’s Lives
As I look back at the players I have coached, I am rewarded by their success in coaching and in life. Many of my players have gone on to coach teams of all ages and are sharing their love of the sport. I know these women are making a positive imprint on the young lives they touch because I know the kind of athletes they were when they played for me.
Coaches need to use the influence they have on their athletes to help them make good life decisions. I try to influence the athletes in a way that helps them increase all positives in their lives. I want our team to be filled with women of character; the ideal athlete for our program is one who is caring, dedicated, and a team player. I want our program to be highly professional and a class operation. I want the team to play the game the way it should be played, graceful in victory and defeat. If your athletes can walk away from your program feeling they have learned important life tools that will help them in the future, then you have done your job.
On the field, I stress leadership and responsibility. These two characteristics are critical not only in sports but also throughout life. If I demand these things from my athletes, they will take these values with them out onto the field and also into life situations. They will all leave having learned some valuable lessons and with some newly found strength to face future challenges.
Our mission as coaches is simple: We will challenge the athlete to be a winner in all that she does, because we’re not just teaching her lessons for softball . . . we’re teaching her lessons for life.
- Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter that much who’s on the other side of the field. We have to control what we can do, and if we play up to our full potential and do our best, then the results will take care of themselves.
- Do not overlook an opponent. Our goal is to play at our full potential all of the time.
- Try to earn respect from your opponent and in rankings and on a national level. (I want our players to know that we will teach them how to compete at the very highest level.)
- Know that we are going to play to win and we will back it up with performance.
- Be mentally and physically tough, cool under fire, and make great decisions. We must have a killer instinct, an instinct of putting people away.
- Be a leader, be committed to the game, and don’t overlook any opponents. Have a very businesslike approach.
I guarantee that my players will work harder than they ever have, but I also promise that the coaches will all work hard to make the game of softball fun for them. I assure the players that they will be treated with respect and dignity at all times, and that we will place a high priority on character. As coaches, we never know how and when we will make an impact on our players’ lives, but if we give them every opportunity to grow and develop life skills, we have touched their lives in a positive way.
Martha Ewing and Vern Seefeldt of the Youth Sports Institute of Michigan State University conducted a study with the cooperation of school systems in 11 cities. Questionnaires were filled out by more than 10,000 young people, aged 10 to 18. The study underlined a number of truths about children and sports:
- Fun is pivotal; if it is not “fun,” young people won’t play a sport.
- Skill development is a crucial aspect of fun and is more important than winning, even among the best athletes.
- The most rewarding challenges of sports are those that lead to self-knowledge.
- Intrinsic rewards are more important in creating lifetime athletes than are ex-trin-sic rewards. Intrinsic rewards include the self-knowledge that develops out of self-competition, and extrinsic rewards include victory or attention from others.
Remember these “truths,” and plan activities with them in mind. Try to keep the fun in all practices, and encourage laughter and smiles. When the coach laughs and smiles, the team relaxes and executes with less stress. Laughter is a great reliever of pressure. Give your players a reason to smile at practice, during warm-up, and in games. If the team plays hard and smart and yet loses, the athletes may not be satisfied with the ending, but somewhere within the game they will have experienced enjoyment. If athletes play hard and smart, they will have more fun than if they do not.