by Erika Brennan, National Recruiting Coordinator
My first head coaching job came at the wise old age of 24. There was a senior on the team who was just 18 months younger than me. I inherited a squad who previously had a part-time head coach and thus was used to part-time commitments.
This team witnessed me as a first year head coach who was still very much finding her footing, her philosophy, and her way.
I wish I could go back and share these 5 things with the 24-year-old version of myself.
1. SEEK GRACE
…instead of being hyper-critical. I was incredibly hard on myself in that first year. I wanted everything to be perfect right out of the gate, and I didn’t allow myself an ounce of grace in the transition process. At one point, the lone senior mentioned in passing, “Lighten up on yourself, Coach, you’re doing just fine.”
That comment was the turning point for me! This job is hard – and it’s dynamic, and messy sometimes, and infuriating, and “oh my gosh I should have just taken an 8-5 desk job somewhere.” It’s also the most rewarding, fulfilling and downright amazing experience all at the same time.
Cut yourself some slack, coach, and remember Jimmy Dugan’s advice in
A League Of Their Own “It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.”
2. SEEK RESPECT
…not friendship. I made this critical mistake and worked the entire next season to fix it. Culture is like that – it is not easily created, and once established, is even harder to change. If you seek to earn respect, you will in turn, earn friendship once a student-athlete becomes an alumna. Seek friendship, however, and you’ll end up losing out on respect….and probably the friendship once their playing career is over anyway.
It’s easier to begin by being stern and loosening up as you go along, than to begin by being too easy and trying to get sterner as you go. Strike the right balance in the beginning, and you will, in turn, make it much easier on yourself in the long run.
3. SEEK OUT AND LEAN ON
…veteran coaches. Said differently – there is no shame in not having all of the answers. Rely on those coaches who have been in the game longer than you. Pick their brain! Ask situational questions and dig deep into their responses.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel, especially in the beginning. Read about the legendary coaches and emulate the parts of their philosophy that align with your own.
4. SEEK TO FIRST UNDERSTAND
…then worry about being understood. This one is so important I almost listed it twice. Put yourself in the metaphorical shoes of your student-athletes as often as possible. Consider the demands on their schedules, the interpersonal relationships that are always at play in their lives, and that for many, this is the first time away from the comfortable protection of their parents.
By seeking to understand and then modeling your coaching strategies accordingly, you will be much more easily understood. If you want your student-athletes to be “bought in” to what you’re selling – take the time to understand what makes them tick outside of your respective sport. Invest in them as people first – for there are no limits to what empowered student-athletes can accomplish.
5. SEEK BALANCE
…in the area of work-life. Coaching can become a vacuum that sucks you in to a nearly 24/7 time commitment. Certainly, there are times of the year when this is almost necessary. In those other times, however, make a concerted effort to find work-life balance. Prioritize family time, down time, and opportunities to focus on your own health and wellness.
It is perfectly fine to schedule this time just like you would a strength and conditioning session, or team meeting. Carving out time for you, and your family and friends, is imperative to prevent burn-out.
I suppose that’s the beauty in all of this, that you cannot possibly know the lessons until you live and work through them. Wouldn’t it be nice though, if hindsight would disguise itself as foresight.
As Vala Afshar says, “You win some. You learn some.”