Identifying Good Coaches
Being able to identify if your child’s coach is a good coach or a lousy coach is not only critical to your gymnast’s development but also essential to your financial and emotional sanity as a parent. When I listen to parents across all youth sports, one of the primary questions parents have is how do they distinguish between a good coach and a lousy coach. With the advent of social media and the wussification of youth sports, it has become difficult to identify suitable coaches. “Ole Skool” coaches who were once regarded for their winning pedigree because they demanded that their athletes be disciplined and dedicated, have now been redefined and labeled as being too stringent and too harsh. These coaches have been replaced by a more scaled down model of a coach who might look like an upgrade but definitely isn’t built better. “Ole Skool” coaches are essentially the Terminator 1 version of coaching. Tough and rugged, they get the job done but don’t come with all the bells and whistles. Full disclosure, I am a believer in the old guard. I come from a time when you practiced until you got it right. While Growing up as an athlete, I was always under the impression that practices only had start times and that we ended when we met the coach’s expectations(except for on school nights of course).
Many parents today expect coaches to serve as a disciplinarian, nanny, pastor, behavioral therapist, a bosom buddy and best friend. That coupled with the fact that social media has now changed the way we view winning and success, it is not hard to understand why the quality of coaching has fallen off the proverbial cliff. We now live in a society where winning and losing are set within the confines of social media. Success is now defined by how many likes you can get from a Facebook post. In many cases, parents have made the development of the child in the sport an afterthought. Due to the redefinition of the words success and winning, coaches are no longer obligated to ensure their athlete’s performances are a good representation of their coaching ability. If they put a “half-baked” product on display, who cares as long as that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts show the athlete in a positive light regardless of the overall outcome of the performance. In this blog, I will pull from my coaching experience to tell parents what I think are the qualities that good coaches possess. Although, I am not a gymnastics coach I have been coaching long enough to realize that regardless of the sport there are qualities that all good coaches share.
To identify the qualities that a good coach should have I think it is essential to break down what are the primary responsibilities that come with being a coach. Coaches, at the end of the day, are judged and evaluated by two things, the progress of the athlete and the win/loss columns. The first thing most parents want to see is progress. Is my child better than when she first walked into the gym? If that answer to that is a no, then everything from that point on is downhill. Following very closely in priority is parents want to win. Parents like to think that they have evolved past the basic concept of the score is the determining factor of success, but nope, it is all about the W. Winning screams success and everybody wants to be associated with a winner but if you can’t win at least show that you are trending towards winning. Now, that it has been determined that coaches are inevitably judged by winning, and the athletic progress of an athlete let’s dive into what qualities make up a good coach.
“If I only had more time….”
you earn trophies in practice you just pick them up at competitions
For most coaches, time is the currency of choice when it comes to development. If you talk to most coaches, the one primary complaint they always have is about needing more time to train. The reason is most good coaches are a perfectionist at heart when it comes to coaching. If you ask any coach to evaluate an athletes performance, the response you are likely to get will be similar to this “it’s okay, but we need to improve on <insert skill here>.” That is typical coach speak regardless of how good the athlete’s performance. Good coaches believe there is always room for improvement and if given more time those improvements can be made. Due to the fact, there is such a premium placed on time; good coaches are always trying to make practices as efficient as possible. We all have heard the numerous cliches that continue to ring true today like “practice doesn’t make perfect a perfect practice makes perfect” and one of my all-time favorites “you earn trophies in practice you just pick them up at competitions.” Having an efficient practice invariably will be to the detriment of coaches taking the time to converse and relate to parents. Good coaches are often viewed by parents as standoffish or unapproachable. That is because good coaches have very little time for casual conversation while in the gym. Parents, in general, are viewed as distractions, a necessary distraction but a distraction none the less. Having distractions however small they may seem to parents are exponentially worse to coaches. Good coaches keep a laser focus on being successful, and anything outside of that is an unnecessary obstacle to the overall goal. Therefore, asking a coach to be or do anything that compromises time is typically a deal breaker.
“Good coaches are students of the sport.”
Good coaches are always striving to increase their knowledge, but with the caveat, any new method of training they adopt has to be proven to be effective. Although coaches enjoy building their war chest of training techniques. Employing an ineffective technique can not only be disastrous to the athlete but also to a coach’s reputation. If an athlete learns a skill the incorrect way, it takes twice as long to correct it. The reason it takes twice as long is that athletes must first unlearn the bad technique before learning the new method. You compound the issue if that athlete has been successful with the wrong technique because the athlete will typically resist the change. Due to coaches having to balance risk versus reward when implementing new training techniques, it may appear coaches are stuck in their ways and unwilling to change, but that is typically not the case. Remember, coaches, are ultimately judged by two things, the progress of the athlete and winning. Parents often complain about coaches not implementing anything new in regards to training, but most coaches do make subtle changes to their training regimen in small increments. Remember change is always necessary to foster growth and development but too much change at one time can have a negative impact on the two things coaches are judged by. It is still a balancing act for coaches between leveraging the traditional way of training versus a new innovative way.
“Good coaches are rigid but not inflexible…”
It can be said good coaches march to a different beat and often appear rigid and inflexible, but in actuality, they are not. Coaches are problem solvers and the faster and more efficient they are at solving problems the better they are at coaching. They are prone only to take a calculated risk so any ideas that appear not to be based on any real training principles will be quickly discarded, and that is why they seem rigid. They understand no athlete is the same therefore no solution can be applied universally. That is why they can’t afford to be too inflexible in the way they employ their training methodologies. If you read my blog on defining success in youth sports you know that although parents view a group of gymnast not being able to master a skill as a universal problem typically due to deficiencies with the training. In actuality, not being able to learn a skill may be a symptom of a more significant problem related to that specific athlete. This is the reason why coaches are typically very reluctant to implement new training methodologies universally.
“Good coaches take losing personal…”
Winning isn’t everything, but it beats anything that comes in second. – Paul Bryant
Good coaches can’t stand losing. Not only is winning a reward for all the hours of hard training for the athlete but it is also a non-verbal acknowledgment to the coach of a job well done. Good coaches also hate losing because they understand winning is a representation of success and being successful is a skill. Being successful is not only about training harder than the competition it is also about training smarter. It is about an athlete being able to push their mind, body, and spirit harder and farther than their competition and that is what brings them to victory. Good coaches understand that once an athlete masters the skill of being successful they can apply that skill to various areas of life, not just sports. For some reason we live in a world where wanting to win is considered a bad thing as if besting your competition is somehow an offensive gesture. Good coaches love to compete because the competition is the test that helps them determine whether their coaching is effective. They seek out the top competition because they live by the creed that iron sharpens iron. Don’t get me wrong, although good coaches don’t like losing they can accept losing as long as it provides an opportunity for growth. Good coaches understand that winning begets winning just as losing begets losing. Therefore, good coaches are always trying to build a culture where the expectation is to win.
“Good coaches have favorites…”
Coaches need to treat everyone fair, but fair doesn’t always mean equal.
Shh, don’t say this too loud because parents don’t like to hear it and coaches don’t like to admit it but all coaches good and bad have favorites. The key, when dealing with a good coach is finding out what qualities do they look for in their favorite athletes. Good coaches love athletes that are hardworking, focused, dedicated, attend practice consistently and who own responsibility for their failures just as they take credit for their success. I am amazed when I see parents whose child is lazy, not focus, rebellious, always hurt, always crying, always late. These athletes are just an overall distraction to the coach, but their parents have the unrealistic expectation that their child will be treated the same as a child who has the opposite qualities. The reality is that coaches need to treat everyone fair, but fair doesn’t always mean equal. If a child brings drama when they come to practice, then their parents should expect them to be treated accordingly. A coach’s job is to bring the best out of the athlete, but parents make it difficult for coaches to do their job when they don’t do theirs. As I mentioned earlier good coaches put a premium on training time so untrainable athletes that require constant oversight are considered “time-suckers,” and those types of athletes good coaches have a hard time tolerating.
“Bad Coaches are laborers, good coaches are craftsmen, and great coaches are artists.”
Good coaching is as much of an art as it is a skill. It is a combination of technical know-how, intellectual warfare and old-school fear between the coach and athlete. Imagine trying to convince your child to swing from a bar 12 feet high, release up-side-down and then somehow manage to land feet first, “yea I’ll pass.” Coaches have to be masters at earning athletes trust to the extent that their belief in the coach will allow them to overcome the fear of bodily harm. Anybody who dedicates themselves can be a good athlete, but only the chosen few can be good coaches. The first step to building trust as a coach is to be genuine. Good coaches genuinely want the athlete to be successful. If a coach doesn’t care if you are successful, it will show. Good coaches hold athletes accountable for bad performances, but they also take ownership themselves for not doing a better job coaching. Good coaches are honest in their assessment of a situation. If the gymnast’s performance was terrible, then good coaches will call it what it is but will also provide guidance on making it better. Eliminating the mixed signals allows athletes to process the coaches feedback accurately. In general, good coaches understand the art of being able to relate to an athlete and pull the best out of them both mentally and physically.
Finally, parents need to realize coaches should not be disciplinarians. They should not be your child’s behavioral therapist. They should not be your child’s best friends or bosom buddies. At times being a coach causes you to have to make hard decisions and to make the best decision, a coach has to be as objective as possible. A coach’s job is to develop an athlete both technically and physically. It is not their job to have to coerce your athlete into complying with the rules while simultaneously staying focused on the other athletes in the program. Good coaches are like an old Chevy. Just change the oil once in a while, and they will run just fine.