Frank Reynolds explains why a formal coaching philosophy statement is essential for all coaches.
Assuming that you are a coach, you carry out your role based on your experience, knowledge, values, opinions and beliefs. This in itself is a philosophy, and you do this unconsciously. The question is - do you know yourself well enough to understand what your core values and coaching methods are? A coaching philosophy that is well thought through clarifies many aspects of the coach's delivery and presents a consistent and positive message to the athletes being coached. One of the strongest benefits arising from a consistent and sincere approach to coaching is trust. A strong bond between coach and athlete leads to higher levels of commitment and athletic performance. With that in mind, it is the wise coach that takes the time to think through and formalize his or her personal coaching philosophy.
Developing a philosophy
In developing a formal philosophy, the coach can take three key components and, to their best ability, formulate a coaching philosophy document to be a better coach, to improve coach/athlete satisfaction and achieve superior athletic results. These three components are:
It takes an honest assessment to admit to having weaknesses, but we all have them. We do not want them to interfere with good coaching judgement. By focusing on your strengths, you will identify consistent ways to coach that utilize those strengths. Are you a good teacher, motivator, academic communicator, or former athlete? Are you dynamic, easy-going, hard-nosed or open and friendly? Use your strengths to your advantage. By taking the time to make a serious assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and recognizing your morals, values and beliefs, you can better adapt your style to the athletes being coached. Also, you will answer the essential questions on why you are a coach, how you deliver as a coach, and what objectives you are trying to accomplish. Self-knowledge leads to self-confidence, and you want to exude what you believe in. One other point to consider here is - how do others perceive you?
Know what you are up against - your coaching context
As important as it is to understand what makes you tick, it is equally important to understand the confines of your coaching context. By this, I mean: A good understanding of the athletes you coach's age, gender, and training level. How much time do you and your athletes have to train and compete? What is your development program based upon, and how far can you take it by enhancing and incorporating other aspects such as sports psychology, nutrition education or sophisticated technical analysis? What funding, facilities, services and equipment are at your disposal? Also, what are your short-medium and long-term goals for your athletes?
There could be other restrictions that will affect your coaching delivery. These include laws or policies on safe practices, club or school rules of behaviour, competition with other sports, school pressures and outside activities, parental interference, or performance standards to qualify for teams and competitions. Knowing what you are up against enables you to tailor your annual training program to the specific needs of the athletes you have under your charge. By understanding the outside influences that will affect your program, you can incorporate those that are good practices. Such policies on safety and behaviour, adapt to others that restrict your ability to be the 'do it all coach' such as lack of funds, equipment or services, and minimize negative obstacles that will affect you personally or an athlete on your team or your team in general. Dealing with parents can be a stressful situation, and a clear philosophy on how you will deal with an angry parent will minimize or avoid the knee-jerk reaction that often makes matters worse. By adapting your coaching philosophy to reflect the coaching situation you are dealing with, you become more effective and productive and minimize obstacles and other difficulties.
Understand your athletes, their personalities, abilities, goals and why they are in your sport
Communication is a vital aspect of coach/athlete relationships. It is crucial to talk to your athletes individually to determine their values and beliefs, goals, and why they are participating. Without this knowledge, you might be delivering a coaching bag of apples to athletes wanting a bag of oranges. The program will not work correctly. As a coach, you are a powerful role model and can significantly influence your athletes if you and the athletes are on the same page. Take the time to get to know each of your athlete's values, beliefs and habits. Once you know and understand each of your athletes, their strengths, weaknesses, abilities and skills, I suggest you develop an approach to coaching them. Will you focus on the stars? Will you treat everyone equal in terms of your attention and help? The teamwork approach will work for you.
What is your attitude toward teamwork?
By developing a TEAM philosophy (Together Each Achieves More) and your coaching philosophy, you bring together ingredients for superior success. By knowing your athletes, you see how each fits in with the TEAM philosophy. Some may have values or behaviours that undermine the team, and you can work out solutions to change the athlete's response to fit for the good of the team. Knowing your athletes enables you to identify your leaders and role models so that the rest of the team will respond positively. By getting athletes to buy into the 'TEAM' concept, you will aid in streamlining a consistent approach to training and competition by each athlete. This makes coaching much more natural and hopefully more rewarding.
Process versus Outcome
I cannot stress enough the importance of educating athletes that it is more important to focus on their development process and how they performed in a competition rather than the results or outcomes they achieved. Every coaching philosophy should have a significant statement on how the coach views the results of both training and competition. In a race or game, there can be only one winner. Does that mean everyone else is a loser? If you read the newspapers, that is what you would think. Therefore, to build confidence, see measurable progress, and learn positively from mistakes made, I urge all coaches to focus on the process and not the outcomes with their athletes. The athletes need to do the same.
All coaches operate under a coaching philosophy of some kind. It may be by instinct or formally documented and well thought out. The advantages of a well thought out coaching philosophy are threefold:
It is possible to develop a team approach that achieves superior performance with this knowledge. Linking the aspects of the three coaching philosophy segments will create a realistic coaching roadmap for you that is realistic, satisfying to both you and your athletes, and rewarding in improved performance.
Coaching is all about helping athletes achieve their dreams. It should be done positively and smartly, and with passion. The positive coach and role model, following a well-defined coaching philosophy, will be a crucial ingredient in the success of their athletes. For that reason alone, developing a formal coaching philosophy statement is essential for all coaches.
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About the Author
Frank Reynolds is a Canadian Level 4 high-performance coach, middle and long distances, working with elite athletes and coaching high school athletes with the NorWesters Track and Field Club.