Almost a month back and already 35 school fixtures have already played. As a coach of school sport there is nothing better than seeing your team replicate in a game something you have spent hours practising on the training field during the previous week. It’s potentially one of the highlights of being a school coach. However along with the highs, their are some lows. So what are the difficulties my department have already faced this year as coaches of school sport?
1. Loyalty and selection
It has been said by some coaches that having made a selection they should retain their loyalty to a particular player for a period of time. This might be commendable. On the other hand there are loyalties which a coach has and the major one is to the team as a whole. If the presence of a particular player is detrimental for whatever reason, then loyalty to the team should take precedence.
2. Decision making
Appointing a captain, vice captain and perhaps a committee to make decisions within the team is a great way at developing student leadership skills. However I feel it is imperative that the person who accepts final responsibility, the coach, must make the final decision. This is not to say they shouldn’t be listened to – far from it. The coach should never forget that they have much greater experience in the particular activity than do any of their athletes. A coach cannot afford the luxury of waiting for boys to learn the lessons through their own errors. The coach should be there to advise, reduce these errors and to model what strong leadership looks like.
This issue relates also to the matter of captaincy. On one hand the coach has a responsibility to teach a captain how to lead and allow them to learn by experience what this entails. To this end he does not want to merely rubber stamp the captaincy. On the other hand, school sport captains, are by definition inexperienced and it must fall to the coach to ensure the captain gives the coach his full loyalty and a carries out the coach’s wishes even when he privately disagrees.
A good school coach will be sensitive to each individual in his team. They will know when there is a player who feels on the outside and will take the necessary steps by their own actions and through others in the team to ensure that player is incorporated. The coach will get to know his players sufficiently well to know what technique us most appropriate for each one one order to get the best of of them and for the team.
Coaches need great sensitivity to the development of cliques within teams. There is nothing worse for a player than from being on the outside because for some reason in other activities he is not involved with his peers. Cliques develop through contact in earlier years and can be an issue for new students coming into a squad. Subtly and for the coach at times unknowingly, students who are not part of the inner group can be given a bad time, or deprived opportunity to perform. The coach who is sensitive to this situation will ensure cliques have no power or influence within a team.
A major ingredient for on-going success and development is there is team harmony. It is surprising how often coaches are unaware that some students are very critical of others (either through jealousy or other reasons). There is no place in a happy team for students who nastily tease other members or who loudly criticise or ridicule them. This must be challenged immediatley. The harmonious team will always develop more than the one which lacks it. Indeed the harmonious team performs above its abilities because each player is encouraged by teammates to give their best.
The requirements of a school coach are just as important on the sporting field as in the classroom. Whilst the coach may run or play with the players at times, they must always retain their respect and dignity. Students may feel ill at ease is coaches indulge in bad language because they recognise that this is not their role. There should be no difference in behaviour between the classroom and the sports field.
Coaches inevitably and desirably get closer to the students in their teams, and it follows also with a number of their parents. There are some parents who keep their distance and who might never be encountered in a whole season! There are those parents whose intrusiveness might be unwelcome. There are those parents who will be critical behind the coach’s back and others that will be critical to their face. The coach will need to deal with each of these situations with maturity and if their integrity is unassailable they will have limited worries. However the coach does need to be aware of not having favourites as a results of parental knowledge and friendship. Ne warned about developing close friendship with some parents because it can lead to embarrassment if a player needs to receive a sanction or be dropped. The motives of a minority of parents are not always pure and some will carry the friendship of the coach in the interest of their own child.
8. Other members of staff
Issues can arise when other colleagues are having either academic or behavioural difficulty with students who play sport. If they feel they are not having any success in dealing with these issues then withdrawing them from sport and representing the school will have the appropriate effect. Personally I do not believe that punishing a child by taking sport away does anything then cause resentment, however they are first and foremost at school for academic reasons. You have a tough role to play in this because as a coach you want to support a member of your team and as a teacher you want to support your colleague. I would always err on the side of supporting your colleague, but trying to find a middle ground. Where possible try to make these decisions together with the member of staff, and explain the reasons to the student.
There are obviously many other issues that have to be faced when acting as a school sport coach. Please feel free to add your own and any solutions you have for overcoming them and I shall add them to this post.