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Make sure sideline coaching sets positive tone

By Victoria Advocate
Dec. 17, 2013 at 6:17 a.m.


I have grown up in the sports arena. I'm not sure that I had much of a choice. As the youngest of five children with a dad who was a previous college athlete and high school coach, I was the only one of my five siblings that showed interest in sports. My dad jumped at the chance to help to foster that interest.

I started off in swimming and gymnastics but quickly moved through the process of trying many sports and, ultimately, continued to pursue and enjoy swimming, running and basketball. I also picked up cycling at a young age for the pure enjoyment of the adventure of covering a lot of miles.

I continued to pursue the sport of running in college where I competed in both cross-country and track. As an adult, my interest in triathlon peaked, and I have been competing in both road racing and the sport of triathlon since the early 90s. Along the way, I have had the experience of being coached by many coaches with a variety of coaching philosophies. This came in all realms of the sports world, from summer leagues to high school and college and finally being coached by a professional triathlete as I have pursued my hobby of racing in triathlon as an adult.

In addition, my father took an active role in accompanying me to practices and competitions, doing his own form of "coaching" from the sidelines.

From my own experiences as both an athlete, and now as a coach of runners and triathletes, I have a fairly good grasp on what can help to inspire athletes to give their best effort, as well as what may lead to a situation where motivation is extinguished altogether. As a parent of two athletes, I have also had to step back and watch my own actions and words when discussing sports performance and making sure that feedback leans towards being in the positive form, instead of taking the form of criticism.

Growing up as the child of a college athlete and coach could be difficult at times. Although I enjoyed my dad's guidance in sports, at times I felt like my performances were never enough, and there was always some form of criticism coming my way after I had raced or competed. Ultimately, this led to me not wanting my dad to come to my events at all with the stress of feeling that I would somehow let him down and not wanting any added stress while trying to compete.

In my quest to do my best in helping to foster my own children's interest in sports as well as being the best coach I can to my adult athletes, I have begun to read Dr. Alan Goldberg's Sports Psychology. It is a great reference for athletes, parents and coaches.

As parents and coaches, we risk doing more harm than good to the minds of our young athletes by the words we speak and the actions we show. To truly inspire our children to be motivated, help them maintain an interest and optimally foster success in sport, we as the adults need to be more aware of how our words and actions can affect our young athletes.

Suggestions for parents

Do not show your disappointment, anger, frustration or displeasure with your child after they fail or struggle. Otherwise you are communicating to your child, "Perform, or else I will not love you as much."

If you make your child perform for your love and approval, then you risk damaging your relationship with your child. Don't allow yourself to get blinded by winning or your child's playing time in sport. The relationship between you and your child should remain to be about love and nothing to do with sport.

To best help prepare your child for life as adults, love your child unconditionally and empower your child by building self-esteem and treating your child with respect. Do not connect a child's self-worth and lovability with their athletic performance. Giving positive feedback does not make a child "soft" or complacent.

Don't allow your dreams as a parent to interfere with what your child wants from their sports. Don't be so demanding with practice and competitions that your child is forced to take the sport so seriously that there is no opportunity for your child to have fun with their chosen sport.

Help your children to have a more relaxed attitude towards sports and failing and making mistakes. You can do this by responding appropriately and constructively.

Suggestions for coaches

As a coach, you have to be the model of responsibility. It is your job to teach responsibility 24-7, 365 days a year. If you don't set and enforce rules and if you tolerate inappropriate behaviors and "reward" the better athletes who break rules with more playing time and preferential treatment while ignoring their less-talented yet harder working teammates, then you are not doing your job.

To help athletes learn the sport to the best of their ability, make sure to provide an environment in which the athlete feels free to make mistakes and fail. Making mistakes is an integral part of the learning process, especially in competitive sports. Give clear feedback to the athlete so that he or she can determine exactly what they are doing wrong and can learn the right way to do it.

As a coach, an adult charged with the responsibility of helping raise up fine young adults, it is not your job to demean an athlete. There is no appropriate reason for this type of behavior. Publicly demeaning young athletes in front of their peers doesn't make you a good coach, doesn't build their mental toughness, doesn't make them stronger and doesn't prepare them to perform better. It only serves to demoralize players and distract them from their focus on the sport, and it insures they will suffer from performance issues.

Have the courage to be self-aware enough to have an open mind in how you relate to your athletes and assistants. The best coaches can allow themselves to be open to feedback from those around you.

RESULTS: John Klemczyk, third 45-49 AG, 14th overall, 1:43:20 (13.56 miles; 7:38/mile pace)

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