In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair

An athlete of mine, an equestrian, recently made a decision to take her training and sport to the next level. Towards this end, she left her traditional high school and began taking an approved on-line program so that she would have more time to devote to her riding and competing. With the blessings of her current coach of two years, she began doing clinics with other trainers to learn more and different techniques. As part of this supplemental training, she decided that she wanted to spent one month this summer working intensively with one of these older, more experienced trainers. Her current coach responded very badly.

This young woman felt hurt, rejected and abandoned by her athlete, even though her rider was very clear with her that she had no intentions of changing coaches. The coach angrily expressed to her rider that, “after all I’ve done for you, now you’re going to leave me and I won’t get any of the credit for all the hard work I’ve done with you.” In response, she forced her athlete to choose. If you leave for this month long training, then you are deciding not to work with me ever again.

Thankfully this athlete made the right choice. She left to train with this more experienced coach.

This unfortunately very common situation begs two questions in the coach-athlete relationship: First, what is the real purpose of the coach-athlete relationship? And, second, just who is this relationship really for anyway?

The true purpose of the coach-athlete relationship is for the training, learning and development of the athlete. The good coach presents an environment that fosters the growth and development of the individual as an athlete. He/she teaches the athlete the proper technique, conditioning, strategies and competitive nuances of the game and then helps that athlete improve in his/her skills and performances.

However, the best coaching always transcends athletic development and directly and indirectly helps the athlete grow as a person. Good coaches teach young competitors how to be better people in society, to have solid values, ethics and morals. They help the young athlete feel good about him/herself and valued, not just for their athletic prowess, but for who they are as a person. Good coaching is all about the athlete, NOT the coach!

Part of good coaching is to understand that this relationship needs to keep the athlete’s best interests and development as a priority. Therefore, if the athlete has a chance at getting more advanced training which will ultimately help him/her better develop, then the coach needs to set aside his/her personal feelings for the betterment of the athlete and encourage that athlete to participate in this training. Sometimes this actually means that the coach has to be able to admit when he has reached his/her level of incompetency. That is, when he/she has taken the athlete as far as possible given the limits of his/her experience and skills. In this case, the really mature coach is able to refer his/her player to someone who can continue the good work that has already been done.

If that coach indeed feels hurt and abandoned by the athlete, know that these are very normal feelings. However, they should never be “shared” or dumped on the athlete! Remember, the coach-athlete relationship is about the athlete, NOT the coach. Good coaches are servants. They serve the athlete. That’s their job, not the other way around!


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