High Standards and Understanding in Coaching

In preparing to write my book, Creating A Team Like No Other, I surveyed current and former athletes asking them what their coaches did that was helpful in their development and what the coaches did that was harmful. The results of this survey show that feeling the care and support of their coaches is the key ingredient in helping athletes stay motivated.

Unfortunately, many coaches believe that caring promotes softness rather than the toughness that competition requires. But caring has nothing to do with being soft. While rigorous mental and physical training is essential in preparing young athletes for competition, it must take place in a proper environment. Kindness and firmness are not opposites. In fact, they complement one another as do caring and having high standards.

One athlete who took my survey wrote, “A good coach should expect more of me than I expect of myself.” Athletes want to be held to high standards. Something inside of us wants to be challenged, wants to explore our limits. We need to prove ourselves to ourselves and to others. Therefore we are dependent on our coaches to keep the bar high. Otherwise how can we be tested?

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I believe in the philosophy of The Outward Bound School.  Two of my five children completed one of Outward Bound’s thirty day programs in North Carolina before their senior year of high school. It was a difficult journey but they were both glad they chose to go. They began to see themselves and the world differently after successfully meeting this challenge. What seemed impossible was no longer viewed that way.

A good sports program should be demanding. Working toward excellence is not easy but mediocrity is never okay. Having high standards is a sign of respect.

Holding others accountable is a gift to them. As the saying goes, “We get what we tolerate.” Coaches should have certain expectations for their athletes: show up on time every day with a positive attitude and a willingness to work hard and make sure to be supportive and respectful of your teammates at all times.

Joining a competitive sports team means that athletes are expected to commit to building mental and physical strength and working hard to improve in their sport while helping their teammates do the same. That’s where high standards come in.

With that said, athletes will not always meet a coach’s standards. They will make mistakes, show poor judgment, lose focus, try too hard or not hard enough, be driven by their emotions, etc. It helps to keep in mind that young people’s brains are not fully developed and that sometimes they will show this lack of maturity. The job of the coach is to guide and teach them during these formative years as they seek to grow and succeed. That’s where understanding comes in.

Please leave your thoughts and questions below in the comments section.

– Coach Sexton

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