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Andy Grant

15 Things All Coaches Should Know

Valuable advice to boost the confidence and skills of novice coaches as they negotiate their first steps in their coaching careers

When you are starting to coach, it can be a slightly daunting experience. Suddenly, you are in charge, and all eyes are on you. And it should be a bit daunting. And exciting. And enjoyable, even fun. You are in a position that determines whether everyone enjoys taking part or not. This is a position that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

With that in mind, here are 15 things that you should know to help you when you start out as a coach:

  1. Be prepared. Have your equipment sorted; have some ideas for what you want to do and have the required information, such as medical conditions, physical readiness forms and contact details, in a secure folder. If you are the named first-aider, make sure you have a stocked first aid kit.
  2. Be flexible. Especially if you are coaching children or recreational sport for youths and adults. You want to have your first activity in mind, but choose one that isn’t dependent on exact and even numbers. Activities like tag and bulldog work well with younger ones. Adults and youths might go for a jog as a group and enjoy the social interaction.
  3. Whenever possible, get there early to set up. Sounds simple, but it’s amazing the difference it makes if you aren’t putting out equipment when they start to turn up.
  4. Know your responsible others. They will be a godsend for when life overtakes you and you can’t get there early. No one knows when the car will break down or the boss needs that report done before you go home, or you can’t get the customer off the phone. If you have an assistant coach, then you’re golden. If you don’t, then you need to have a team or squad captain who can lead them through a safe warm-up under your supervision while you set up your first activity and compose yourself.
  5. Remember it’s their game, not ours. As adults, we have the privileged position of being invited into their world, and we are custodians of their fun. If it’s children playing grass-roots sport, it should be mostly fun game-based activities. If it’s children on a talent programme, it should stretch and challenge them appropriately. As adult coaches working with children, we must remember playing sport should be enjoyable.
  6. If you’re coaching youth and adults, you need to find out what the motivation is for them taking part in your sport. Who is there to get fit, achieve a PB, make friends, enjoy the social element, to improve, to compete, to stay involved in their favourite sport and so on? Then you should try to give everyone a meaningful experience by matching your delivery, activities and session structure to their individual needs.
  7. ‘Can we play a match yet, coach?’ You will hear this many times as a new coach. Don’t fret, it’s not a reflection on you as a coach, because no matter how good your practice sessions are, everyone loves playing their sport above all else. While this may not be exactly 100% accurate all the time, it’s a pretty high probability that everyone would rather play 3v3 games than do a passing drill, have relay races with each other than do shuttle runs, play a round-robin tournament than hit 50 forehands from a ball machine. Embrace the fact that they love your sport, and fuel their passion, don’t squash it.
  1. Be inclusive in your coaching. Do this check on yourself. Are you providing everyone with the same opportunities? Do they get sufficient playing time? The same access to the best equipment? Do you offer everyone equal praise and feedback? Are your activities suitable for the abilities of the strongest athletes and the less developed participants?
  2. Overtly praise effort, and avoid telling someone they are talented. This advice is based on the Growth Mindset concept of Carol Dweck, where praising effort leads to them having a mindset that practice and hard work will improve performance. Whereas saying someone is talented leads to a closed mindset, ie ‘I’m already good so don’t need to try as hard.’ It also leads others to assume they aren’t talented and drop out. Avoid using false praise when it’s not deserved, and use clear feedback that promotes an attitude toward self-improvement.
  3. People remember how you make them feel far longer than they remember what you did. Develop a rapport with everyone. Be it a pleasantry when they arrive, a high five to celebrate, using their names, remembering a fact about them, asking about their day.
  4. ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, And blaming it on you,’ said Rupyard Kipling in his famous poem ‘If’. There will be times when passion boils over and otherwise responsible adults and well-behaved children will behave in a manner toward you that makes you question whether it’s all worth it. Well, it is. You just need to remember Kipling’s words and remain the rational one. Once you start responding in the same manner, your credibility in the eyes of everyone else will take a hit. So take a deep breath and exhale.
  5. Treat success and defeat in equal measure. You will lose games, competitions, tournaments. It’s inevitable. If you’re feeling disappointed, then you can guarantee your charges will be too. It’s your job to keep a sense of perspective, help them put defeats into context and use them as development opportunities. In times of success, you should ensure that they enjoy the moment for the self-fulfilment it brings, and avoid the bloated ego and gloating that can follow a victory.
  6. Love thy opponent. Without them, there is no sport to play. Without a strong opponent, there is no one to make your players and individuals compete at their best. And to test your abilities as a coach.
  7. Be a role model. Model the behaviour you want to see from others. Enthusiasm, respect, integrity, commitment, determination to continually strive to get better. If you show these, if will rub off on everyone else around you.
  8. Be a sponge. That is, take every opportunity to learn about coaching. Speak to experienced coaches, observe them, go on the Internet and find information, go to workshops. Buy a book – yes, they do still exist. Contact your sport’s governing body and find their entry level coaching course. If you’re not sure where to start, then the UK Coaching website is an ideal place to start.

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Andy Grant