I was speaking at a big swim coaches clinic this weekend along with several other clinicians and three high level US Olympic Gold and Silver medalists. During an after lunch panel, someone in the audience asked the swimmers, “What expectations do you have in a coach?”
Their answer was very instructive to the questions, “What makes a good coach? and “How do you motivate your athletes?” The answers were all along the line of, “WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO ME IS TO HAVE A COACH WHO I CAN TRUST. TO HAVE A COACH WHO REALLY CARES ABOUT ME AS A HUMAN BEING, BEYOND HOW WELL I DO AS AN ATHLETE!
In their very simple response is exactly what I have found over and over again that makes a GREAT COACH! WHO you are as a person, HOW you treat your athletes as individuals, WHETHER you listen to them or not, WHETHER you respect them and the kind of RELATIONSHIP that you build with them are the keys to making you a successful and effective coach or NOT!
It’s the coach-athlete relationship that motivates. It’s the relationship that forms the glue which holds a coach’s teachings to his/her athletes. Without a solid relationship with your athletes, what you know technically and strategically as a coach is totally useless!
And here’s the thing about coach-athlete relationships. No matter what you do as a coach, no matter how you treat your athletes, you’re always working on the relationship. In fact, you can’t NOT work on the relationship. If you yell and scream at your athletes, if you treat them with disrespect, if you are demeaning and emotionally abusive, if you refuse to listen to them and are only interested in those of your athletes who are most successful, then you are working on your relationship with them.
Of course, the kind of relationship that you are working on and developing here is one that is doomed to fail. You will not be very successful and you will not earn your athletes’ respect. You will be a lousy motivator and set your kids up to regularly fail.
On the other hand, if you truly and genuinely care about your athletes as individuals, if you listen to and value their opinions, if your caring of them transcends their athletic performance because you are truly interested in them as people, if you are positive and supportive, then you will be the kind of coach who significantly and positively impacts the athlete’s life for years to come. And as a byproduct of that, you will consistently field highly motivated, disciplned athletes who want to win for you!