By Greg Winkler, contributing writer
As a coaching educator, I have seen many young coaches enter and leave the coaching ranks. I thought maybe a few simple rules may help them survive their first years on the job.
Coaching is great profession, and the opportunity to impact lives and mold young men and women is a gift. Many young coaches are looking to make their mark on the world, and they fail to set the table for a long and fruitful career. If a coach can follow the 12 rules below, they will be off to a great start.
1. Have an attitude of gratitude. Be thankful for the opportunity, thank players for their hard work and dedication, and thank the parents for their support. Thank your school or club administration as well as everyone that is supportive of you during those early years and beyond.
2. Be humble. You are not that important, and coaching is not about you. It’s about the kids, regardless of their age, so send all the praise and attention to them.
3. Set expectations. When setting offseason expectations, be flexible and do not make rules you might have trouble enforcing. Sometimes players have family commitments or commitments to other activities that prevent them from participating in the activities you demand they attend. Know the culture of your clientele and be flexible.
4. Celebrate the positives. Not every team can win the conference or hoist the state championship trophy. But there are other things happening all season long that can be praised and promoted — team academic success, the first victory, a player’s first start, breaking a team record, winning the first half.
Maybe a player achieved some off-the-field accomplishment, like lead in the school play, was named prom king or queen, or earned employee of the month. Know your team and celebrate the big things as well as the small.
5. Listen to your team. Get your team to buy in to your system and your vision. Empower your captains, and give them opportunities to talk to you about the team. It might be where to eat after games, how many team “pasta parties” to have, the menu at the banquet, or what to wear on game day. If you give them power over things you do not need to control, it opens up deeper communication when the team may not be functioning well. Surrender some control.
6. Continue to educate yourself. Whether it’s your first year or your 40th, the game is always evolving. The best coaches continue to read books about other coaches and game strategies. The best coaches attend conferences and take advantage of educational opportunities. Be a sponge in your profession.
7. Integrity is No. 1. One can never say enough about integrity. If you do not have it, your career will not last. You need to remember that actions speak louder than your words. Do what you say you are going to do. Be your best when no one is watching, because you are the face of your program and you are always under a microscope. Walk your talk.
8. Emphasize respect and sportsmanship. This is an area that is talked about, preached about and often thrown to the curb. Respecting the game and modeling good sportsmanship are great when things are going our way, but it’s when we have setbacks and roadblocks where we see true character.
Teach your players to play with passion and give their all regardless of the scoreboard. If we did not have an opponent or we did not have a referee, we probably would not be playing the game. Remember that and treat those that make the game possible with respect.
9. Embrace the past. As a young coach, it’s not about out-performing the coach before you. It’s your turn to guide the program. You are not competing with the past, but you are building the future. Embrace the time honored team traditions, as chances are they were not set by the previous coach — they were developed by your team. It’s part of their culture. Remember rule No. 1 and be thankful for the opportunity, and keep looking through the windshield.
10. Build relationships. When it’s all said and done, it’s not about the wins you amassed or the trophies you collected, it’s about the relationships you build along the way. Take the time to get to know your players, their families and your community. Establishing good relationships make the good times great and the bad times tolerable. Take time along your journey to smell the roses.
11. Communicate often. Keep your team and the parents informed. Send out schedules, practice times and player reminders all the time. When you change a player’s role on the team, take the time to communicate with them about the change and what they can do to get it back. You may think it’s a difficult conversation, and many coaches avoid it, but a quick discussion with the player pays dividends in the long run. Have a conversation.
12. Enjoy the ride. It’s hard to get rich coaching. If you do not have a passion for coaching and developing players, you will not last.
Follow these 12 rules and enjoy this wonderful profession. The personal rewards when you build relationships and coach with integrity will flow long after your coaching career is done.