During the summer, I work lots of camps, which generally means working with middle and high school aged girls. As I get to know them, I usually ask them about their teams and how they think they’ll do in their conference. Inevitably, a girl will say that she’s not looking forward to her season because she doesn’t think her coach likes her.
Then the talk progresses in the same manner, no matter who I’m speaking with: I tell them it doesn’t matter if the coach likes them or not…the coach wants to win! Sport isn’t some sort of popularity contest where coaches bench their best players in favor of less talented girls whom they really like…that makes no sense. I finish my talk with three ways they can “make” their coach give them playing time.
3 areas our players should focus on to be the best they can possibly be
Effort. I don’t know of a coach alive who doesn’t love a hustler. I’ve coached (and I’m sure you have too) players who aren’t gifted with obvious natural talent, but who will figuratively run through a wall in every drill during practice. These players don’t slack off during warmups, but are focused on performing the skill correctly. When coaches show them an area where they need to improve, they work on it furiously. They quite literally don’t understand why anyone would walk onto the court/ice/field without giving their full effort for the entire practice. The beauty of effort is that it is 100% within the control of each athlete…even the coach who “doesn’t like them” is bound to be impressed.
Learning. One of the more frustrating players to coach is the “I know” player. This is the player who says “I know” to your correction before the words have even exited your mouth. When I encounter players like this, I typically have a conversation about how I like to coach…it goes like this. First, I tell them I need them to look me in the eye when I’m talking to them. I’ve found that the “I know” player sees correction as bad, rather than helpful. I want them to see that I’m not angry with them. Second, I tell them I want to see some sign that they’re listening. Head nods, questions, whatever. Finally, I acknowledge that someone else may have taught them a different way to perform a skill and that it probably works…I’m just more comfortable teaching in this manner. A player who is willing to learn different techniques, especially one that her coach prefers, is more likely to get some PT.
Mistakes. This is a big one for me. At my opening meeting of the season, right before preseason starts, I tell my team that they’re going to make mistakes over the course of the season. Some mistakes will be insignificant, some of them will happen on game point and they’ll be crushed. And I tell them that I’m alright with that. I don’t want my team playing scared…afraid to make a mistake. I want my teams to be brave players, willing to risk disappointment (and maybe even embarrassment) on the road to success. If we make space for our players to have to take risks and make mistakes in practice, they’ll be more ready to do it during games. They’ll learn how to manage their emotions and their breathing. Most importantly, though, they’ll know that both you and their teammates respect them for taking the risk.
A lot about teams and sports are out of the player’s control, but these three things (effort, learning, and mistakes) are squarely within their control. If you’d like to read more about this, check out Coach Lok’s series called Creating Confident and Coachable Players.