The demands of coaching are huge. Anyone who has ever coached at any level, from Pee Wees to Olympians and beyond will tell you coaching is a full-time job. Those coaches for whom it actually is their full-time job have a great advantage when it comes to opportunities to truly make a difference and develop the talent of their young charges. However, any amount of time a coach can make available can be spent in mindful creation of a positive environment for their players.
There are as many levels and expressions of athletic talent as there are individual athletes. This is a vital point--these athletes are individuals and, for best results, should be treated as such by the coaches. The following suggestions may seem ambitious and a lot of work, but the benefits far outweigh the time costs for both athlete and team. The extent to which coaches can commit to providing for the athlete's individual needs will greatly influence his or her development and growth in the sport.
In the book, Performance Psychology: A practitioner's guide (2011), Russell Martindale and Patrick Mortimer of School of Life, Sport and Social Science, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK and Aubrey Performance, write in depth about ways coaches can provide effective talent development environments. They say that in order to meet the individual needs of the athletes, the coach should include regular goal-setting, provide purposeful feedback and personal reviews, and offer both formal and informal communication opportunities for each athlete.
One of the best tools for motivation is goal-setting. A coach should make time to sit down with each player and discuss goals. Consider the player's strengths and weaknesses (both from what the coach has observed and from what the player him/herself thinks), with respect to the required/desired skills and traits expected for the particular sport and team environment. These do not have to be limited to physical performance skills, but should include attitude, leadership ability, commitment level, ability to focus, control emotions, etc. Once all of the areas have been identified, discussed and evaluated, it will be much easier to note where improvements can be made and to set goals. These may be practice goals, short-term, long-term, "stepping stones"--ideally, all of these.
Feedback is a useful tool for skill development and behavior modification. It is important, especially since a coach's time is valuable and often limited, to use the time wisely and provide feedback that is purposeful and informative. Simply saying, "Good job," may make the player feel food but does not provide any information as to just what it was about the performance that made it "good." Since the coach and player will have already discussed goals, feedback which indicates progress toward or regress from those goals would be ideal.
On a regular basis, be it monthly, bi-weekly, weekly or even more regularly, coaches should provide reviews which involve sitting down with the player and assessing their progress toward the goals set. Here again, the feedback should be as specific and relevant as possible. Goals may be modified at this time if necessary.
The "open door" policy that many coaches adopt is a great way to encourage communication opportunities between player and coach. But even beyond the formal review meeting and occasional "stopping by" the office, numerous informal methods of communication can provide advantages. Running into players at times other than practice, quick phone calls to check in, meeting for coffee or ice cream, all provide non-threatening situations where players can talk about what is on their minds, how they think they are playing, how the team is doing as a whole. With no specific agenda, coaches may find they hear a lot more from their players than they would have in their office.
The benefits of individualized attention and support of players are many. Coaches who take the time to provide this for their players will be rewarded with happy, motivated, well-adjusted players who are focused on performing at their best.
Collins, Dave; Button, Angela; Richards, Hugh; editors, Performance Psychology: A Practitioner's Guide. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2011: 77.
Articles for Coaches
Information to use with your athletes to improve their individual performance, and your team's success.