Regardless of sport, most people get into coaching because of the unique opportunity it provides to impact the lives of young people. But one thing that never really gets talked about is the lessons that our players end up teaching us, often times without even realizing it.
I reached out to a few coaches in the high school and college ranks and asked them to reflect on their coaching journeys, and then combined that with my own experiences to come up with this list.
1 - They help us put, and keep, life in perspective:
Being able to coach guys from a variety of different backgrounds and upbringings has a tendency to open our eyes at times to the realities of life and how fortunate some of us are, especially when we work with kids every day that may not have access to a lot of the things that we take for granted. Don't let the drive to win blind you to why kids are playing the game.
"I come from very humble beginnings. The fact that we wanted to home visit with a kid and he didn't have a home to visit so we met him at a McDonalds provided some perspective on life."
- College coach
"Sometimes all they need that day is a winter coat and a ride home."
- HS Coach
2 - Don't take the game too seriously:
Whether it's football, or another sport completely, don't take things too seriously. As coaches, a lot of times we can make things more difficult than they need to be, and in our quest to win games, we can inadvertently end up draining the fun out of things for the kids.
"The number one thing that comes to mind is have fun. It is a game and kids love to play it and sometimes we take the fun out of the game..."
- College coach / former HS coach
3 - The "why" is often just as important as the "how"
A lot of time and effort ends up being dedicated by coaches on how to execute a certain technique or scheme, but a lot of times it takes a kid asking why to prompt coaches to look at things in a different light. If players know why they're running the play, or why they're being taught a certain technique, it can help them connect the dots on their own, and that can be a powerful motivator. This is especially prevalent with high academic kids and elite academic institutions. As coaches, it should challenge you to not only think in terms of how, but also have a well thought out explanation ready as to why you're doing certain things a particular way.
"Our guys teach us to look as in depth as we possibly can to every situation schematically. They are too smart that if we aren't incredibly detailed they will ask questions. It's not that they don't trust or believe what we are telling them, but they are geniuses and want to know why we are doing what we do."
- College coach
4 - One coaching approach doesn't fit everyone
One of the biggest parallels between coaching and teaching is that kids learn, and respond, to different approaches. Just like you have kids that learn better through visuals or audio in the classroom, kids at practice respond very differently to different types of coaching. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach that works. Some players respond to constructive criticism great and are able to dig deep and find what you demand of them, while others shut down and don't respond to that approach. The same can be said about putting your arm around a kid and talking to him away from his teammates - it's all about knowing the right buttons to push, and when to push them.
"My biggest thing I've learned is that I praise our kids often because so may of them live 30-45 miles away and we ask them to be here very early and very late all year long. I hve learned that they are so much more committed than I once thought."
- HS coach
5 - Football accomplishments shouldn't be "the best moments of your life" when reflecting in 10, 20, or 30+ years
I've heard a number of coaches share this, and I think if we all take a step back and look at the big picture, it's something we can all agree on. Coaches all talk about using the game to prepare kids for important life lessons like being a great father, husband, and member of society and there is nothing more rewarding to most coaches than to connect with a former player after he's graduated and hear that he's a great family man, and get to meet his wife and kids and witness it for himself. It's special to see when a former player has taken lessons they learned as a player and been able to use them effectively in their life. While everyone loves to reflect on beating their rival, or a big fourth down stop in the playoffs, it should be other moments along life's journey that are the best and happiest of one's life.
Sure, what happened on the field (for both players, and coaches) should be cherished memories you hold on to forever, but life should be full of some more powerful memories that compete for those top spots if you're doing things right.