by Mike Davenport, PhD, Coaching Sports Today
Every well intentioned, good, respectable coach makes coaching mistakes. It comes with the territory.
Following are four common coaching mistakes. Are you making them, and can you stop?
Coaching Mistake #1. You yell like your shoes are five sizes too small
Coaches should yell. They should scream.
And if their point is falling on deaf ears—they should yell LOUDER. Scream HARDER. Spray spit. Flail arms. That works really, really well. . . to drive an athlete away. To destroy trust. To crush an ego. To develop a rep you don’t want.
Athletes don’t respond to LOUD demeaning communication like the communicator hopes they will.
Ninety percent (or more) of athletes who are screamed at are motivated to do one thing and one thing only—make the screaming stop. Yelling and screaming won’t earn you respect. Throw in a few cuss words and you might lose a whole lot more than respect. Possibly the coaching gig.
Coaching Mistake #2. You have the wrong good-to-bad-critique ratio
At my desk, I was coloring a picture. My second-grade substitute-teacher had just given us an assignment. Crayons. Paper.
I was having a great day.
Until . . .The substitute walked up behind me, looked at my work. “This isn’t right,” she said. Then, for what seemed like a life-time, she criticized and corrected my drawing. Not-a-single-positive-comment in the whole lot.
I was crushed.
If I was in art school, chasing an MFA, I would have expected that criticism. Probably would have demanded it. But not as a second grade goofball with crayon in hand. Coaches, like my substitute, make this mistake all the time. Their positive-critique (You are doing this really well) to negative-critique (This part here, it needs to be improved) ratio is wrong for the age group they are coaching:
Here’s a scale I suggest you try on for size (This is my theory. May not fit your style or program.) How well are you doing? Try this…have someone record your comments in a practice.
- Take a piece of paper
- Divide it into two columns
- One column is “positive.” The other “negative.”
- The “recorder” follows you around and puts a hashmark into either column
- Do a grand total after practice
Crazy you say! John Wooden did it. Why not you?
Coaching Mistake #3. You care more about winning than is appropriate
We were sooo late. About 10 minutes late.
I hated it.
When I go to a movie I love seeing the previews. It gets me in the mood for the movie. And I was going to miss the previews this night. I was frustrated as the traffic crept along. I turned to my wife, and groaned, “This is going to suck.” She smiled. “Ah, no worries,” she said. “We’ll just miss the previews. No biggie. Relax.”
I cared. She didn’t. And she was right (it really didn’t matter).
And that’s where this coaching mistake comes into play, when your focus on something is too intense for the situation. I have a theory about winning—yep, it is fun. But depending on the level of your coaching there is an appropriate importance to put on winning.
For example, an eight-year old soccer’s team priority should be athlete/team development and enjoyment. Not winning. While an Olympic effort has really one focus—winning.
Are you making the coaching mistake of caring more about winning than you should? (Or not caring as much as you should)?
Coaching Mistake #4. You don’t watch the watch
Let me be blunt—coaches stink at telling time.
The boss at my gas-station expected us to be exactly on time and to leave exactly when the shift was over. During that window we were “his people” (he used to say) and outside of that time we were someone else’s people. We always pitied the fellow who was 2 minutes late, or tried to leave 1 minute early. But why do coaches think things are different for them?
Oh yeah, we expect people to be on time, yet I see coaches continually keep their athletes late. Five minutes, ten minutes, 30 minutes late. We encroach on other people’s time when we do that.
It’s screwing up. Get a watch. Use it. Because other people certainly do.
Who cares if we make these coaching mistakes?
Relationships are at the core of coaching a team. And when you make any of these four mistakes you can easily strain or damage a relationship:
- No one likes being yelled at
- To improve, the proper amount and type of feedback makes or breaks the learning
- Inappropriate focus on winning can discourage (too much focus) or bore (too little focus)
- People’s time is valuable, and if you waste it they will resent you
We screw up. It’s part of human nature. There are no perfect coaches. Just coaches who try hard, make mistakes, and learn from them.
For more insights on successful college coaching, subscribe to Mike’s free Coaching Sports Today newsletter here. Or, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org