The Single Most Important Thing Your Athlete Needs to Know

caring coach

Do you know what the single most thing your athletes need to believe about their coach in order for them to work to their highest potential?

It’s not that you know how to teach a perfect back handspring. Or that you know how to coach them through a tough meet.

It’s not that you were once upon a time a great athlete. Or that you coached people who went on to be champions.

It’s not that you know how to help them win a competition, a college scholarship or a place on the Olympic team.

It’s not that you passionately care about being the best of the best coaches in your industry.

The single most important thing your athlete needs to know is this: that you care about them.

And by them I mean them the person, not them the athlete.

Sure, your ability to teach, your credentials, your past successes and your passion for coaching are all relevant to your ability to carry out your profession goals and influence your athletes. But none of these things are nearly as effective as they can be if the athlete does not feel cared for.

When athletes know that their coaches care, it creates positive relationships, a happier learning environment and it models key behaviors we expect of the children with whom we work such as kindness and respect.

But it goes even deeper than that. Research from classroom teaching shows that children who believe that their teacher cares engage more in learning, take more risks and are resilient in face of failure.  As a coach who would not want athletes who work harder, go for their skills and keep trying? Yes, please!

So often when we think about what it means to be a good coach we focus on the instructional components of coaching such as having high standards, good lesson plans and strong technical skills.   And while to be successful athletes benefit from these traits in their coach and even place a high value on them, research suggests that students place an even higher importance on how caring their teacher is to them.

How do you show your athletes that you care? By actions.  Because while caring is a feeling, the only way it can be demonstrated is in how you treat your athletes.

Here are my top ten quick tips.

  1. Be happy to see them, greet them and say goodbye to them no matter how practice went.
  2. Get to know them and ask them about things that are important to them.
  3. Let them know you believe in them, that you are proud of them and that you are glad you get to be their coach.
  4. Set high, but realistic expectation and goals for them.
  5. Discipline them with consistency, compassion and fairness.
  6. Speak gently and kindly, always being truthful and treating them with respect
  7. Celebrate their birthdays or other special accomplishments with small tokens of appreciation. Let them know they are an important part of your community.
  8. Listen to them.
  9. Trust them.
  10. Put their physical, emotional and psychological well being ahead of gymnastics.  The development of the child must always take priority over the development of the gymnast.

In short, as the great coach John Wooden said, “seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.”