A recent dinner with a beloved old coach prompted this post.

It’s back to school time. Which means back to the practice field for millions of athletes across the country. As summer cedes to fall, student-athletes put their training to the test; each one on a unique journey of self-discovery and character development. And at the center of every team, is a Coach.

There are few people in life with as much influence as “coach.” Think about it: a coach has the undivided (no phones) attention of their athletes 5 or 6 days a week for an hour or 2 (or more) each day. What other adult in a young person’s life has that kind of relationship? Coaches and athletes spend time doing something physically and mentally challenging and at times very complex, with stakes upon the outcome. The system this creates – competition, pressure, relationship, work, victory, defeat – is a unique crucible for growth. Therein lies its value.

Given that so many young people are struggling with mental health challenges – and that athletes are more at risk than the general population – it follows that the coach is in a position to make a positive difference here. Yet too many coaches, feeling the pressure to produce wins, simply push that pressure down onto the players, creating a negative reinforcement loop, amping up anxiety – and worse. Too many coaches see their players as a means to their own personal success and ego fulfillment.

Unfortunately, most coaches, particularly at the youth, club and high school levels, simply don’t have much training in coaching. Sure, they may know the sport, perhaps they were even a decorated player. But playing, and coaching, are 2 very different things. Inexperienced, outcome driven coaches around already anxious student-athletes suggest negative outcomes. We really need process driven coaches who are committed to both connecting with, and shaping players as people, leveraging the platform of the sport as the medium.

Here are some things coaches should be mindful of as they approach their season:

Start with a vision – What does it look like when your team is high performing? Reverse engineer that.

Build your culture – Your culture is the north star of your team.

Understand your values – Make sure your priorities are in order.

Focus on the process – And the outcome will be the best it can be.

Love your players – And they will run through a wall for you.

Make it meaningful – It’s about something much bigger than the self.

Know your stuff – You have to keep learning the game, and your craft as a coach.

Use time efficiently – What will you prioritize with limited time?

Model the wayBe the way you expect your players to be.

Strive for excellence – Hold yourself to higher and higher standards.

Coaches are human. We make mistakes, we don’t always get it right. Yet we have this humble opportunity. We have a chance to help others become better people.

And what, I ask, is better than that?

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Photo by Michael ZagarisCoach

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