Parents— In addition to considering some of these thoughts for yourself, I encourage you to share them with your athletes.
What It Means To Be Coached
I’m a tough coach. I have high expectations of myself to help players achieve improvement and high expectations for them to apply the coaching that they receive. This isn’t unique; most coaches are cut from the same cloth. Sport gives coaches and players an environment to pursue a desire to be the best (regardless of what your personal definition of ‘the best’’ is). Because this is a constant journey rather than a comfortable destination, coaches continually pursue better. This requires identifying mistakes, teaching solutions, and motivating players to apply them.
I make it a point to give both praise and constructive criticism to every player. However, these aren’t given in equal amounts. Some kids do need more pats on the back; some of them need more kicks in the ass. For most players in a given drill, my feedback is as follows throughout their repetitions:
‘Good job with this, but we have to be better here’ ‘That wasn’t a good rep because of this, let’s repeat it and make that correction’ ‘That’s better. I can see you working on what we talked about; we still need more’ ‘That was great effort, but we need better technique’ ‘That was great technique, now you’ve got to be more aggressive’ ‘That’s it! Great rep. Now, let’s add this’
During this interaction, I have sensed times when some players start to have the feeling of, “Can’t I do anything right? Coach is always on me about something.” This is the moment to drive the point home. I admit to them I am aware that I’m coaching them hard and then ask, ‘What does it mean if your coach doesn’t give you any constructive feedback even though you need to get better?’ Their answer is typically that he doesn’t care or he has given up on you. They are right.
I have been guilty of not truly coaching a player because I feel that no matter what I say or do to help him, it won’t matter, he’ll never get it. I have given up on a player and stopped coaching him. I tell players that I would be much more alarmed if this was my coach’s attitude toward me rather than him being a little hard on me and pointing out areas I can improve all the time. I tell them to appreciate that your coach believes in your ability to be better and cares enough to help you get there.
This is what it means to be ‘coached’. It’s a delicate balancing act of reaffirming to a player that he’s accomplishing progress, motivating him to seek continued improvement, and having the knowledge, communication skills to push his game further.
Why Coaches Yell
It’s uneasy for me to admit that I’ve given up on kids before. I think coaches should be the last person to give up on a kid. But some kids make it hard…
Imagine this scenario: We’re running a blocking drill. Players are instructed to start with their right shoulder in contact with a pad being held by his partner and in a staggered stance with their right foot back. (Right foot back, right shoulder on the pad) There are 16 players in the drill with 4 players performing a repetition at a time. These are rapid-fire reps with the next group quickly stepping in and getting ready to go. Each player may get through the line 3-4 times.
On nearly every single rep, one or two of the players gets in an incorrect starting position and the coach must remind them ‘Right foot back, right shoulder on the pad’. Some players don’t adjust their positioning until I’ve repeated the instruction 3 consecutive times in their direction. Again, this happens on every single rep. Wouldn’t this drive you mad?
I’ve had this scenario play out in a variety of drills in nearly every camp I’ve ever coached. It’s not just elementary-age or marginal players; it’s high level high school & junior high players that have pushed my mind to the boiling point. I’ve experienced it enough now know not to get upset, but to use the moment to make a point.
After the drill, I have them get a drink and when they come back I ask them these questions?
Were the instructions on the starting position too complicated to understand? They say ‘no’. Does anyone in this group honestly not know right & left? This is their out, but they say ‘no’. How many times was someone corrected on the starting position? They say ‘too many’. Do you understand why coaches get upset or yell? Silence
I go on to tell them that most coaches are going to understand that there are parts of football that they do not understand. In those cases, the coach’s temperament usually remains that of a teacher trying to explain and show them something new. But in the drill referenced above, the mistakes come from a lack of focus, not a lack of knowledge. When coaches have to constantly repeat themselves on simple instructions and things that they know their players understand, they begin to lose patience and will probably start chewing butt, handing out discipline, and looking for other players with better focus.
In short, I can sum up all of the above in two statements your player should live by:
- Don’t get upset when your coach shouts at you, get upset when he stops shouting at you
- Don’t make your coach repeat the same instructions to you over and over again