Coaching athletes can be an incredibly rewarding experience. No matter the sport or level of competition, watching an athlete finally master that skill or helping lead a team to an unlikely victory is an indescribable feeling. Behind every great athlete is a great coach who helps them realize their potential and pushes them to improve their skills. If you’re new to coaching or looking to improve your approach, here are some strategies for success both on and off the field.
Channel Your Passion
It’s hard to motivate athletes if you aren’t passionate about the sport. Most coaches have some level of history with their sport, whether they’re a retired pro or a casual player. As a coach, be careful not to lose sight of what you love about your sport. While you want your athletes to be competitive, you also want them to have fun and find joy in their sport. Your energy will influence their performance.
Establish Your Role
Early in the season, make your role clear. Ensure your athletes understand that you are there as a coach and teacher. Set expectations and assure them that you want them to improve and that constructive feedback is to be expected. Additionally, make an effort to care about your athletes as individuals outside of the sport. Demonstrate an understanding that things in their lives might affect their performance from time to time, and you are there to support them through it.
Focus on Causes
When a player gets stuck on a certain mistake or technique, take a step back and focus on the cause. If a soccer striker isn’t taking shots, don’t just tell them to take more shots. Get to the root of the issue–are they not confident enough from certain angles? Are they misjudging distances? Getting to the cause of a problem will help you coach more effectively.
Explain the “Why”
Running drills or mundane exercises can feel boring and pointless to some athletes. For this reason, it’s important to explain the “why” behind your coaching strategies. Explain how certain exercises will strengthen specific muscles to help them perform better or how repetitive drills will help them respond faster on the field. When your athletes understand the motivation behind the activities, they’ll be more likely to give it their all and truly see the benefits.
Make Meaningful Connections
When teaching new concepts, take the time to connect them to things your athletes already know. Build upon existing skills rather than starting at square one. These kinds of connections help players understand their own capabilities better and how to use their bodies more effectively to achieve their goals and improve their performance.
Don’t Neglect the Fundamentals
Especially at higher levels in sports, it can be tempting to assume your players have mastered the fundamentals. This is a mistake. Sometimes, going back to basics can make the biggest difference in an athlete’s performance. When an athlete is struggling with a specific skill, take them back to the beginning and build from there. A strong foundation is crucial for high-level performance.
Constantly berating your athletes is not a helpful approach. While there is a time and place for criticism, strive to maintain a positive and encouraging attitude. Especially when your athletes are struggling, focus on what is going well while offering helpful feedback to help them turn it around. Your athletes feed off of your attitude, and if you’re constantly negative, they will struggle to stay motivated and believe in themselves.
Be intentional about recognizing progress. Celebrate every score and point out your players’ strengths often. Publicly recognize great performance and help your athletes see the progress they’ve made through their hard work. As their coach, you should be their biggest cheerleader.