By John O'Sullivan
September 12, 2014
When you are in the coaching profession, one of the things you learn early on is not to take things too personally. Your biggest fans when you win may become your biggest critics when you lose. Your players may love you one moment, and grumble the next, and it is important to maintain perspective and see the big picture even when they cannot. If you are doing your job, your players and fans will not always appreciate the moment, but they will appreciate your great coaching years from now.
Recently I have read numerous articles about longtime coaches resigning due to parent complaints over things like playing time, selection for varsity or JV, and the like. I have read about states passing legislation to protect coaches from parent complaints. Then I read this article about a former high school basketball player who was suing his former coach and athletic director because he didn’t get enough playing time. This is insane. This I took personally.
It reminded me on an incident a few years ago when I was the Director of Coaching for a youth soccer organization and we were conducting a membership survey to learn more about what was going well, and what could be improved in our organization. Amongst all the valuable feedback we received, one comment stood out, and I took it personally. It said:
“How hard is it to coach? All you do is come up with a drill or two, and sit there in your chair and watch games. Anyone could do it.”
Really, I thought.
Do you have any ideas how many hours a week a good coach spends planning practice, and then analyzing how it went afterwards so it can be better next time? Do you know how many hours a great coach often agonizes before and after a game, second guessing decisions he or she made so that next time it gets better?
Do you know how many hours a coach spends talking to players, not about only sport but about life? Do you realize how many hours are spent dealing with a parents’ divorce, a broken heart or problems with drugs or alcohol?
Do you know how many hours a coach spends with other team parents, helping them reach their teenager when he is going through a difficult time? Do you know how much time goes into helping an athlete find the right university or path after high school?
Do you know how many hours a coach spends with your kids, instead of his or her own?
Here is something most people who have never been in the coaching profession don’t know: the hours spent by a great coach on the field or court developing athletes are usually dwarfed by the hours spent off the court developing people. This happens behind the scenes and out of the public eye.
I call these great people “coaches of positive significance.” These are leaders who have reached a point in their coaching careers where they no longer measure success in wins and losses, and in trophies and medals.
These coaches develop better people and better players. They measure success not in championships, but by the number of significant life events they are invited to by their players. When an athlete invites a coach to a wedding, or graduation, or other such event, the athlete is doing that not because he or she won some championship. The y invite a coach who has profoundly changed them for the better as a person.
And here is the secret sauce. These coaches of positive significance realize that when you invest in people off the field, success on the field usually follows.
Sadly, in our current era of entitlement, and parents who think they are helping their kids by mowing down all obstacles (we call them lawnmower parents) in their child’s march toward Ivy League schooling and college athletics, our coaches of positive significance are becoming an endangered species. These amazing people who are willing to push your child, to take him or her out of their comfort zone, to say “good, now do more,” are being threatened by a minority of parents who are willing to yell loudly and make a big stink every time their precious little child faces some adversity.
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