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Are You Playing Tug of War?

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A great working environment is an essential pre requisite for me and I’d rather not coach than walk into the gym each day and shout at athletes as a form of motivation. ‘Constant dropping wears away stone’ and a barrage of negative comments towards an athlete not only affects self esteem, but begins to motivate athletes through fear of failure as opposed to their passion to perform.

Imagine your boss was screaming and shouting at you each day you went into work. How long could you remain passionate about what you do, with high self esteem and performing at your optimum levels? It wouldn’t take long before you start to perform at sub maximum levels and you become resentful towards your employer, much in the same way the athlete will become resentful towards the coach.

As adults, we are in a position to express our feelings, defend ourselves, and take action. The young athletes we coach are often not. They turn up day after day with little or no flexibility in the regime they train under, or ability to communicate their feelings to the adult giving them instructions.

If you find your athletes in this place, it’s a slippery slope, and the tug of war occurs. The coach demands more from the athlete, but the athlete doesn’t want to do any more. In fact they don’t even want to do anything, they’re unhappy. This in turn, aggravates the coach further! You’re pulling in opposite directions.

With morale being such an important asset within a high performing culture, the rapport between myself and an athlete takes precedence over medals. One comes before the other. And for those thinking that winning medals is the ticket to long term morale, you’re wrong, they bring brief positivity and a sense of accomplishment, which soon fades when faced with the reality of training again.

There are too many coaches who are immune to their athletes’ emotions. This sterile form of coaching is inferior to the coach who invests time to build rapport with their team. Happy kids perform better.

Let’s look at some easy ways of building rapport with your athletes. You’ll notice that many of these points are only what you would expect of them towards you. A little goes a long way:

  1. Talk to the athlete with courtesy, irrespective of their age. See the child first, before you see the performer.
  2. Show respect for the athlete.
  3. Show an interest in their life and not just their performance when training. Ask them questions; how was school today? What are you doing this weekend? What did you get for your birthday? It doesn’t have to be complex.
  4. Build trust, or perhaps I should say ‘don’t break trust.’
  5. Be approachable so they feel at ease to communicate any concerns they have, without being intimidated or fearful of consequences.
  6. Show that you can adapt to the individuals needs of the athlete.
  7. Treat all of the athletes equally within a group or team.
  8. Show empathy when appropriate.
  9. Be authentic when providing positive feedback. They have to know it is genuine.

Great coaches have a great understanding of their athletes. This is one of my favourite quotes from Tony Robbins – ‘Most teachers know their subject, but they don’t know their students.’

As coaches who can spend more time with the athlete than their parents, it’s essential to have a deep understanding of them. We should know what their driver is, where they find inspiration and motivation, what their goals are, how they are feeling based on their body language etc.

Time spent building a great athlete - coach relationship is an INVESTMENT, which will both save time, and make coaching far more fulfilling.

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Comments (4)

   
JonWoodward74
Excellent post Nick - lessons for coaches AND parents!! It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes..... Raise you words, not your voice. It is the rain that grows the flowers, not the thunder....
25/02/16
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NickRuddock
Great quote Jon, I'm swiping that one!
26/02/16
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dancottrell1
Great article. A template for all to follow. I wish I had done these things as a younger coach more often.

For me, the last point, about feedback, is perhaps the most difficult to enact effectively. I know there are some great posts on feedback elsewhere. However, I think too many coaches (and I'm one who falls into this trap), think that coaching is all about feedback...lots of it.
08/06/16
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SallyB
A great blog, it also applies to my environment coaching paddle sports in a recreational rather than completion setting. For new paddlers you need to build that trust and rapport especially around 'self rescue'. Capsizing in a river, which is a bit murky and sometimes cold is an anxiety provoking situation, but a skill which needs to be learnt. Some will embrace the challenge others not. For the latter a great deal. I am going to share with my club colleagues
09/06/16
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