I have learned that building a relationship with your athletes is one of the hardest things to do, especially if you did not coached the athlete from the beginning of their sport experience.
Each athlete is different and you as their coach, are the only person that can understand what they are going through and their feelings.
Although athletes have friends and family, sometimes it’s not enough, sure they can act as comforters and be their emotionally, but what a coach provides is an understanding on a sport level. Sympathy does not help, understanding and developing an effective plan to help them does. A parent’s job is to convince them to keep going and keep pushing and it’s a coach’s job to teach them the effective skills suited for them to complete any task.
Now, it’s time you learn your athlete. Your job as a coach is to:
– Figure out what makes them click
– How well do they work under pressure
– How far will they push themselves before you have to jump in and aid them
– How patient are they
– How do they deal with tough training days? (with negativity or with a positive attitude)
– How are they at problem solving and finding a solution before the emotional breakdown?
These are the ways you will create a better and stronger athlete. Once you show them that you take an active interest in these sections and that it is pertinent to being the best coach for them, they will then begin to trust you. Trust is the most important aspect of a relationship between you and your athlete.
Please understand, getting to know your athlete is like research. This will take time. Your athletes are homework, without studying them you will not be able to prepare a successful outcome for them OR build their trust. From experience, I find that it takes about one year of intense coaching to understand my athletes enough in order to build their daily, weekly and even monthly programs to target them individually. As your athlete develops, so must your training programs.
I always encourage coaches to not only spend time coaching your athlete but also observing them. Understand what kind of kid they are; what do they like, what are their hobbies, what are their attitudes like at home and at school? This will help you figure out what excites them and motivates them to learn during your sessions.
I enjoy spending time studying my athlete’s body language. I pay special attention to how they react to situations emotionally and physically with anything whether it be positive or negative. This is how I determine what I need to do or say to help them in their time of struggle. I look at what situations them happy or sad and how they think of themselves during those times. I use different words and sentences for each on my athletes because I know how it affects them. I also address them in different times of their training practice and use different examples of how to correct their performance while incorporating happy and positive experiences from their life. A funny example of this is – One of my athletes love rabbits. When she is learning new things, I try to integrate rabbits into some of my explanations for her. I notice that she gets excited which makes learning positive and helps her focus because I’ve related to her on a personal level.
Here are a few important things that I have noticed with athletes that have helped me develop my communication skills with them during training:
1. Some athletes are comfortable with being addressed in front of a group of their peers and can still remain focused, even if training continues behind them. Another athlete may be shy or insecure, which, would tell me I need to address him or her privately.
2. Some athletes respect a firm tone of voice as some may view it as their coach is upset with them and attribute it to punishment. When I notice my athlete’s anxiety increasing from frustration, I can easily tell who I need to be firm with and can handle a raised voice. This will help them snap back into their groove. I also recognize those who require a subtle more gentle approach in a more nurturing way.
3. Some athletes hear words differently. For example, I can tell an athlete to remember to think of being the best while performing and they would use that as motivation, while others may hear those words and think they ARE the best and I like them more. This could have a negative impact to the entire team. It could promote tension, anxiety, bragging and belittling between team mates. This is why it is very important to understand your athlete and their cogitation.
4. Some athletes need a healthy distraction if they are beginning to struggle with a task. If I see my athlete trying to make a change that just isn’t working and maybe they aren’t as focused as they should be, I would ask them to take a break and work on something else for a while with the option of revisiting the task with a clearer mind. Again, understanding an athlete is important here: Some athletes may view this as a break while others may feel punished. The last thing we want is for our athletes to feel punished for trying something and not being able to accomplish it.
Being a coach is about knowing your athletes and understanding who they are. They are like snowflakes, no two are the same. They may have similar physical potential or skill level but they will always cognitively differ. Again, this means what works for one may not work for the other.
Understand your athlete is not unaware, they know when their coach is taking the time to understand them as an athlete and when they are not. Your athlete may not always understand why you are training them the way you are, but they will collaborate with you better if you know them as well as you possibly can. This is how you build trust and trust is, by far, the most important aspect of your relationship with your athletes.
“You are your own most powerful motivator and critic. Which will you be?”