Almost every coach at one point in time has an athlete that you still use to point out your success. Usually, that athlete would’ve had success regardless of who was coaching them. Yet it’s that athlete that we use to personally validate us as coaches. But what about those other hundreds or thousands of athletes you’ve coached? What do those athletes say about you as a coach? Do they say you only cared about the star athlete? Do they say you made every athlete better? I would argue that while the prestige of making every athlete better may not be as great as that State or National champion, the reward is 10x greater. The challenge in making every athlete better is hard, tiring, and stressful. Every athlete has their strengths and weaknesses which may be at odds with your strengths and weaknesses as a coach and person. So you can’t follow just one path to produce success and you will have to ask a lot of yourself; but this is where I think the reward comes in. You get to know something about the athlete. You have to understand their wants and needs in order to define success. When you focus on the star athlete and just let the other athletes come along for the ride; their stories becomes a shadow of the star athlete. Coaches should strive to be better. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to do since some programs you aren’t keeping your job if the performances don’t lead to hardware. Those looking at the program don’t care if you helped an athlete resolve a situation with a significant other, or if you helped an athlete through a family tragedy. At the end of the day, we as coaches have to live in the world we help shape. Those athletes go on to be your doctors, plumbers, or maybe Senators. What kind of person do you want in that role?
Often I hear people talk about how their coach pushed them and was hard on them cause they wanted them to succeed. What I don’t hear often enough is that the person’s coach taught them how to handle things in a healthy way. Now that’s not to say that pushing yourself is an important skill for an athlete to learn; cause it is; but it doesn’t mean anything if that is the only tool you put in that athletes toolbox. What happens when that athlete’s son comes to him one day with a problem that the athlete doesn’t know how to deal with. Do we want that athlete resorting to the one thing he knows? Do we want them being hard and strict with that kid in every situation? What other ways have you taught that athlete to manage those situations? I’ll take a bunch of lower-performing athletes who are given the tools to make things better; over a few great athletes who cause more problems. What you want may be unique to you and is probably a sign of the people who coached you.
At the end of the day, we are teachers, mentors, role models as well as a coach. No matter if we want to be or not its part of the job. We don’t live in an isolated world the athletes we coach either directly or indirectly will impact our lives. What kinda world do you want that to be? Are you helping to create that world?