Just like you and me, no coach is perfect. And let’s face it, no matter how great a job a coach is doing, he or she will never be able to please everyone, all of the time. Thankfully, most are committed to doing all they can to provide a supportive, healthy environment where young athletes not only have the opportunity to build game skills, but also self esteem.
Unfortunately, however, by the time an athlete reaches adulthood, there is a good chance that he or she will come across one or two coaches whose “teaching” styles may actually do more damage than good.
So, what separates a good coach from a bad coach? Everyone has their own opinion. However, here are 10 signs that a coach has definitely lost his or her way and strayed terribly far from the true mission of coaching.
1. You’re NOT a good coach when you call a player out in front of the team and embarrass him or her with negative comments that do nothing to explain what he or she is doing wrong. Before you make a comment to a player, ask yourself whether the comment is constructive. Will it help the child to understand exactly what he/she is doing wrong and what they need to do to fix it? Does it motivate the individual to want to work even harder to improve? Does it help that individual feel good about themselves? Good coaches use mistakes as an opportunity to help players get better, build skills and bolster self-esteem. Good coaches use their words to enhance a player’s experience of hockey — not detract from it! Good coaches understand that they are working with a very valuable resource: the psychological and emotional well-being of a future generation!
2. You’re NOT a good coach if you think that your most important job as a coach is to win games. I don’t care what kind of pressure to win that you may feel. If winning is your primary goal as a coach, then you have significantly lost your way and, as a consequence, you’ll actually win less! Your mission as a coach is to teach young people and help them grow as individuals so that they become better people in the world, both on and off the ice. There are far more important things at stake here than whether a kid scores two goals, gets a game winning assist or correctly learns specific plays. Good coaches teach their athletes how to be better people in the world and they use hockey as nothing more than a vehicle for this lesson. The winning and losing outcomes are completely secondary to the teaching of valuable life lessons (playing as a team and sacrificing individual needs for the betterment of the team, handling adversity and failure, mastering fear and obstacles, working hard towards a faraway goal, learning to believe in yourself, being a good sport, playing by the rules, etc.).
3. You’re NOT a good coach when you place the outcome of a game or tournament in front of the physical and emotional welfare of your players. If you pressure your athletes to play when injured or if you demean and ignore those athletes who are too injured to play, then you are engaging in physical abuse. Encouraging your athletes to play hurt so that the team can win is reckless behaviour. When you do this, you are directly putting your players at risk. You are not teaching them to be mentally tough! Playing through pain is not a sign of strength. That is a ridiculous MYTH! Instead, it’s completely ignoring your body’s early warning signs that something is very wrong. Good coaches listen very carefully to their players when it comes to pain and injury. They err on the side of safety and never assume that a player is “faking” when that athlete complains of an injury or pain. Good coaches truly understand that they are the guardians of their players’ safety.
4. You’re NOT a good coach when you allow players on your team to demean each other or use each other as scapegoats. Good coaches create a safe learning environment for their athletes, both physically and emotionally. There is nothing safe about being on a team where teammates regularly criticize and yell at each other. There is nothing safe about being on a team when you are picked on or ostracized by your teammates. Good coaches understand that it is their responsibility to set very clear limits to prevent these kinds of “team busting” behaviours, which leave preadolescent and adolescent athletes feeling psychologically unsafe.
5. You’re NOT a good coach when you play favorites. Coaches who play favorites go a long way towards creating performance-disrupting dissension on their squads. They collude with and encourage their athletes to turn on each other. Good coaches treat their athletes fairly. They don’t operate with two different sets of rules (i.e. one for the “chosen few” and one for the rest of the team). Good coaches understand that coaching is education and each athlete on the team is equally important in this process.
6. You’re NOT a good coach when you tell your athletes that under no circumstances are they ever to tell their parents what really goes on in practice and that if they do, they are being disloyal and disrespectful to you as their coach, their teammates and the program. Coaches who tell their athletes these kinds of things are terribly misguided and are likely trying to hide their abusive behaviours. Good coaches will never ask you to do this. Instead, they create an open dialogue between their players, the parents and themselves. Good coaches understand the importance of honest communication and they are open to appropriate feedback from their players and parents.
7. You’re NOT a good coach when you treat your players with disrespect. I don’t care what your win-loss record is or how many championships you’ve won. When you treat preadolescent and adolescent athletes disrespectfully, then you are not a good coach. Great coaches don’t teach in this manner. They respect their students and make them feel valued — both as learners and individuals. Good coaches build up, rather than tear down, their player’s self-esteem. They never demean them! Good coaches earn their respect from their players on a daily basis, over and over again, based on how they conduct themselves and how they interact with their athletes and everyone else associated with the program.
8. You’re NOT a good coach when you don’t “walk the talk.” What you say to your players means nothing if it doesn’t come from who you are as a person. Simply put, your words have to closely match your behaviours. Good coaches are great role model that teach through their own behaviours. They don’t operate on a double standard where it’s OK for them to act one way, but hold their athletes to a different and higher standard.
9. You’re NOT a good coach when you refuse to take responsibility for your behaviour or when you refuse to own your mistakes and, instead, blame others for them. The mark of any great educator is that they present themselves as human. They do not let their ego get involved in the more important tasks of teaching and their student-athletes’ learning. Therefore, when something goes wrong, they are quick to own their part in it. Good coaches take full responsibility for their team’s failures and give their team and athletes full responsibility for successes. Bad coaches blame their athletes for losses and take the credit for the team’s successes.
10. You’re NOT a good coach when you play “head games” with your athletes. If you talk behind their backs, play one athlete against another, or are dishonest in your interactions with your players, then you are doing nothing constructive to help your players learn and grow as athletes and individuals. Putting a player down in hopes that he or she will rise to the occasion and prove you wrong is a head game! Similarly, telling a player one thing and then turning around and doing exactly the opposite is not good coaching. For example, promising a player more playing time if he/she does A, B and C, and then keeping them on the bench after they do everything you’ve just asked of them is a psychologically insidious game that will kill your athlete’s love for this sport, crush their spirit and destroy their confidence.
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