In my years of experience as a strength and conditioning coach, I’ve known many sport coaches — some good ones and some, well, not so good. Nothing is more refreshing than knowing the great ones and sharing each other’s passion for impacting young athletes in a positive way.
So what makes a great coach? And how would we recognize a great coach if we saw one? It might seem simple enough, but just asking your kid if he/she had fun at a practice or during a game might not be enough. A child’s demeanor can tell a lot about what kind of social interaction the coach has with each athlete and the impression he or she leaves with the team as a whole.
I think it’s fair to say that most parents place high expectations on a coach to motivate and inspire their kid to succeed. As much as we place trust in someone to treat our kids fairly and to empower them to believe in their potential, it’s not always the case.
This is why it’s important to celebrate the great coaches out there that know what it takes to motivate a team and individual players to perform at their best. Two people that stand out in my mind are a former football coach I worked with from a local community organization and an Olympic hockey player who now instructs on-ice skills camp and is well-known for positive and effective coaching methods.
When I was approached by this football coach to help with the team’s athletic performance, I felt his passion for the game and knew it was the right fit. I was excited to offer my help and share some new methods to lead his team through proper warm-up sessions before practices and games. When I listened to how he spoke to the kids and motivated them to work hard, I realized the respect these kids had for their coach. He always used positive criticism and provided an open environment for each player to discover and explore his abilities. Although the season I worked with the team was not as successful as we had all hoped, the speech this coach made at the end of the last game was very memorable and had a lasting impact on the kids and myself. I’ve become a better strength coach today because of his year-end speech because it taught me that, no matter the outcome in sports, we have to walk away with our heads high and learn from our experiences to be better.
Perhaps the greatest coach and person I’ve come into contact with was a former Olympic hockey player who has his own segment on Hockey Night in Canada and runs his own skills development camps. I was offered to instruct the off-ice component to the weekly camp and was privileged to have the opportunity to meet this great coach. We shared a passion for delivering a great experience for the kids and we both understood the lifetime impact coaches can have on athletes beyond the game. After sitting in on his “Better Coaching” seminar, I became even further aware of the important connection between how we, as coaches, conduct ourselves and how well kids will perform on and off the ice.
Playing hockey goes far beyond winning on the ice — it’s about winning in life through the inspiration and respect of a great coach. I couldn’t say it any better than UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “Success comes from knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” That statement holds true when an athlete has the support from a great coach who believes the statement for himself or herself too.”