One of the most scrutinized jobs I’ve had is as a coach.  It’s easy to be a target when you’re in the spotlight, commanding the direction of many junior players.

I once had a player I both personally trained and coached leave my program after her senior year without as much as a goodbye.  During a time where I gave maximum effort, went above and beyond the call of duty, I went from being “a great coach” to a bad coach.  Why?  Disciplinary action was needed and applied to this player during the team’s season, which, at the time in this junior’s eyes, wiped out more than a year and half of me training, working with and caring about this person and turning this player into a very good player, eventually a #1 at her school.

One of my best coaching moments with this player was to discipline her (an important teaching moment) for not being a team player, yet this effectively ended a productive player-coach relationship.

Since that was early in my coaching career, I’ve found it fascinating to talk to other junior players on other teams.  I ask them, “how do you like your coach?”  I get varied responses.  Of the juniors that proclaim they really like or love their coaches, I press and ask why.  The answers I receive are oftentimes similar:

  • He/She is a great guy/woman.
  • He/She is hilarious.
  • We always have a lot of fun in his/her program.
  • She/He buys us pizza a lot!
  • She/He lets us out of practices early.

I can go with other statements I’ve heard, but they all have in common one glaring familiarity: that none of these truly answer the question of why a student-athlete likes his or her coach.  What makes them a good coach?  How have these individuals impacted a players’ or teams’ performance in their sport?  The comments most juniors make is usually always based personally on how they view the individual, not the coach.

There is often a huge disconnect from the reality of what makes a good or bad coach.

This is something I’ve never understood.  It’s alarming that the coaches that get good marks from players are oftentimes just nice guys or gals, but not the greatest of coaches.  Meaning: they make nice chaperones during sporting events, but don’t really teach athletes critical lessons on how to better themselves in competition within their respective sports.

General criticisms are going to happen if you’re a good coach; there’s no avoiding it.  That’s part of coaching.  Ever heard that saying: “the quickest way to fail is to try to please everyone”? That’s especially true in coaching.  The best coaches in my past have had one thing in common: they’ve irritated me on several occasions, while they’ve pushed and driven me to become better.

I’ve always felt that there needs to be both a personal and business side to every good coach-player relationship, particularly in an individual sport such as tennis.  I try to stress this to every player on every team I coach.  There is a time I’ll embrace and respect my players as teammates and as individuals and other times discipline / push / drive them as their coach (as that is my duty and role).  Separating my job as a coach and as a person is critical for youth to understand that there is something much more important about the relationships between coaches and players and that achieving great things together only comes from this separation of the roles we both play within our team.  I believe without this, lines blur and everything becomes personal…one reason why many coaches might find an easier route to just be the nice guy or gal instead of a teacher/pusher/driver of youth athletes. The thought process might be that always being the nice guy/gal will save criticism (happy kid+happy parent=easy coaching). In realty, it’s never really good coaching to begin with. But many times these types of coaches get praised for their work.

As for good coaches getting criticized for doing their jobs, Aristotle once wrote: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

Think about that the next time you want to criticize a coach.

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