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  • Writer's pictureCoach Cathy Barry

The Importance of a Great Coach - by Coach Cathy Barry

The Role of the Coach

What exactly is the Track & Field Coach’s role? You could say that coaches often assume many diverse roles such as a teacher, trainer, negotiator, manager, administrator, organizer, communications expert, diplomat, psychologist, disciplinarian, counselor, and/or parent substitute. At one point and time coaches assume one or all of these attributes in order to deal with their athletes. But more than anything, a coach has a most important level of influence, negative or positive on those athletes they interact with. For this reason, winning should not be the greatest outcome or reward. Rather, the positive effects that the process of development, training, and competition has on young athletes should be regarded as the best possible outcome. Great coaches use sport as a vehicle to enrich the lives and the futures of their athletes not as the only gateway to winning. Winner or Loser? While some coaches often focus solely on winning as the most prized outcome of the sport, this is can lead to lessening the other worthy aspects of an athlete’s participation in sport. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win; however, there is a difference between being focused and obsessed with winning. Coaches who solely focus on winning should evaluate him or herself often during the year to determine if winning has become the priority over doing what is best for the young people in the program. The Truth: At best, only half of the participants can be winners in any sport competition. And in a sport, such as Track and Field only one individual among many achieve victory. So, does this mean that everyone else then becomes a loser? Is there no opportunity for achievement, fulfillment, and fun without winning? Is winning really the ultimate goal of sport or is there a more important objective and a more attainable goal? Winning vs. Success: Too often, coaches and athletes miss experiencing the pride and satisfaction of success because they are too focused on winning. More often, coaches and athletes fail to win because they first fail to become successful. In a vicious cycle, athletes begin to equate their self-worth with only the ability to win in a competition. The opportunity for success is available to everyone if it is defined as performing to one’s capability rather than focusing solely on winning first. This is especially true in the sport of Track and Field where individual improvement can be quantifiably by tenths of seconds or inches. Everyone who makes improvements no matter how small, has reason to feel successful. Teaching athletes to focus on success and discussing with them what success looks like, rather than focusing on winning nurtures the factors that ultimately may lead to winning. So, what does Success Look Like: Development – Persistence – Drive - Determination

Development - For some, early success comes from a God-given natural ability or talent that they were born with to be the best in a given sport or for a certain skill. Yes, those with a natural ability given at birth have a huge advantage, but without the drive, effort, and determination, that talent will only be great for so long. The challenge is not to have the ability but to develop and use the ability that is given to its highest potential.

Persistence - Only through continued persistence in training can we become successful. With proper training, athletes become faster, stronger, explosive, more experienced, confident, and mentally stronger. They are able to increase their level of training and with increased confidence in their abilities, they can now challenge themselves and reach for new heights. Drive & Determination - Some athletes are able to draw on inner strength to summon greater effort than they know themselves to have. This is the use of one’s determination, the power to go back to one’s personal reservoir again and again as needed. When an athlete trains hard to develop their ability, is persistent at training, and has the drive and determination to give their best effort at the competition and to push beyond the limits, they are successful. So, what happens when a coach is only focused on winning? It means that the coach will only be focused on those athletes that win or are perceived a possible winner. The rest of the athletes become essentially neglected. Contrary to that approach is focussing on success which unlike winning can be experienced by every athlete every day. It doesn’t mean that success is easily achieved or comes easy. Building Success comes from a coach who can instill positive attitudes in his/her athletes about success: striving for excellence, hard work, dedication self-confidence, and the desire to have fun. All sports should be fun and inspire athletes to pursue it. Fun is the pride, satisfaction, and fulfillment a youngster experiences from improving his or her strength, speed, and skill after hours of training and practice. It is the thrill and exhilaration of setting a new personal best in competition. This is the fun that all athletes and coaches seek. It is the fun of feeling good about oneself – the feeling that stays with athletes long after they have left the track. When athletes experience this kind of fun, they become consumed with the desire to feel more of it more often. Developing this desire to have fun maybe the most important attitude coaches can teach. When athletes are filled with the desire to have fun, they are likely to for excellence, dedicate themselves to consistent hard training, show the self-confidence to make the tough decisions and sacrifices it takes to train and compete at their best. Making it fun means being less anxious to show their ability in competition, free of fear or self-doubt, as well as gaining personal strength from respecting, helping, and caring about their teammates. How do coaches shape the lives of athletes? Most people believe that SPORTS are responsible for having taught their kids the greatest lessons, keeping their kids active, developing confidence, respect, pride, teamwork, and cooperation. However, it is not SPORTS but rather it is the COACHES who frame the experience of participating in sports within the environment that he/she creates each and every day at practices and competitions. Some athletes have experienced relentless criticism and ridicule from their coaches, while others have been gripped by the fear of intense scrutiny and high expectations by their coaches. All too often, due to this, athletes develop attitudes of disrespect, hate, and vengeance for their opponents, officials, teammates, and other coaches. For some, it is the penultimate step in leaving the sport. Coaches should inspire a safe environment that nurtures pride, confidence, courage, respect, responsibility, trust, caring, leadership, and other attributes the coach believes to be important. These must be reflected and constantly reinforced in the attitude, words, actions, and behavior of the coach. Coaches are role models and leaders that often athletes trust and look up to. Coaches who demonstrate a lack of respect, honesty, integrity, disregard for authority, and abuse their athletes with ridicule, demeaning statements, and criticism can easily destroy athletes. Research indicates that it is the quality of coaching leadership that determines whether youngsters have a good or bad experience in competitive sports. A Coach can have such an impact in making every athlete feel important, worthy and accepted. No athlete should have to earn a coach’s acceptance. They should all be unconditionally accepted, and they should know it is OK to make a mistake. Once athletes of any ability level feel the security of having a coach’s time, energy, interest, belief, and trust, it is literally amazing the great things they will dare to do. Trust me I have seen it! Conclusion: Many lessons can be taught and learned through participation in sports and the influence of a great coach such as how to set goals, how to compete, how to take risks, how to deal with success and failure. Important values and attitudes such as sacrifice, dedication, accountability, and self-confidence can be learned along with such virtues as integrity, good sportsmanship, teamwork, camaraderie, respect for opponents, mental toughness, and persistence in the face of adversity. Those experiences and character traits will lead young athletes toward successful, fulfilling lives long after their athletic careers are over.

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