The Way of a Coach is forged by their continual choices, actions and the type of relationships they try to build. We create this Way with every interaction we have with the children we coach. Our Way creates the environment for young people in sport. The environment to learn, to play and to find joy. However before trying to follow the Way of the Silent Coach, I used to follow the Way of the Weekend Coach.
The Way of the Weekend Coach is focused solely on the outcome. All their decisions are based upon a destination and that destination is usually a win at the weekend. Recently some of my past students came back to school and watched the team I’m currently coaching play rugby. After the game we went for refreshments and the conversation progressed to how much I had changed as a coach. They then reminded me of all the things I used to do as a Weekend Coach:
The Weekend Coach plays children in the same position all season. I made everyone play in a set position all year long, based on what I thought they would be. By not giving them a chance to play in different positions they were unable to learn and experience all the sport has to offer. Not one of the past students who returned to visit plays in the position I put them in.
The Weekend Coach always picks the same squad, which they perceive to be the best to get a win. It didn’t matter what they did at training or on the pitch I always picked what I thought was the best squad to get a result. They reminded me about one of their friends, Ben, who they thought had turned up every training session, always trained the hardest and made the most progress. I never picked him. Not once.
The Weekend Coach provides constant instruction from the sideline through out the game. I didn’t stop talking to them throughout the game. Where they should be, what position they should be in, what lines to run, what decisions to make. I would give a constant running commentary on how they should be playing the game from kick off to the final whistle. They couldn’t hear it and when they did they hated it.
The Weekend Coach only sees success through the lens of winning and losing. They all felt I loved them when they won and hated them when I lost. When they lost they knew I was going to pick up on every mistake they had made. I was reminded of the time I didn’t speak to them at all after losing to our ‘rivals’ by one point. In fact I didn’t just not talk to them I went out of my way to ignore them.
The Weekend Coach is the only one allowed to speak before kick off, at half time and at the end of the game. I did the team talks. I set the game plan. I made the decisions. I did the analysis. I did the debrief. I pointed out where they had gone wrong. I told them what they needed to do to win. There was never any dialogue about the game and me trying to seek their thoughts and ideas on the match.
The Weekend Coach shows their frustration and displeasure of mistakes by, muttering, flapping their arms and walking away in disgust. All of them agreed that what they remembered most about games, was not the mistakes they made, but my reaction to the mistakes they made. I would kick the ground, throw my arms up in the air, walk away from them and mutter under my breath. They always knew that when I did that I would be picking up on their mistakes in the team ‘debrief’ at the end of the game.
The Weekend Coach would take players off if they didn’t follow their instructions. All but one of them had been withdrawn from a match they were playing, pulled straight off the pitch not to get back on for the rest of the game The reason was always the same; not following my game plan.
The Weekend Coach has favourites and makes sure everyone knows it. Whenever I did praise anyone, which wasn’t often it was always the same players. Those that were the ‘best’ or who won me the game.
The Weekend Coach always picks the strongest, quickest or biggest for certain tasks. I had nominated ball carriers, they were the only ones who could take the ball off rucks in open play, or break from mauls or receive from line out moves or were strike runners on tap penalties. They all wanted to have a go but never got the chance with me.
The Weekend Coach only uses players on the bench if the game has already been won. Some players would get picked in the match day squad and never get on the pitch. One game they remembered was an away game which had three hours of travelling in total. All four of the players on the bench didn’t get to play because the game was too close as I didn’t trust them to ensure the win.
The Weekend Coach thinks of I and never We. They asked me if I valued the win more than them? They asked me if their win was how I valued myself? They asked me if I was playing the game through them? I couldn’t answer them, but I think I would have been lying if I said no.
The Weekend Coach uses the language of negativity and deficit all the time. In training, during the game, after the game and on the bus trip home I would speak to them as a team, or as groups or as individuals. I would always be picking up on what they did wrong, what mistakes they made, what they should have done better and what they still needed to do to be better. At no time did I thank them for their efforts or commitment to the team or tell them how much I enjoyed watching them play.
The Weekend Coach builds relationships of compliance. I demanded at all times that my rules were followed. That my game plan was followed. That my warm-up was followed. That my of doing this was followed. At no time did I give them ownership or a sense of autonomy.
There is no right or wrong Way. All Ways are open to us as coaches, but there are some that are better for youth sport. I wonder how many children I have put off sport when I followed the Way of the Weekend Coach? Thankfully I’ve had defining moments that have given me insight to where that Way can lead. The Way that you follow as a coach is all important as ultimately it guides the culture and environment which which the players experience their sport. The Way isn’t a destination, it is a journey. A journey of defining how you coach on a day to day basis. The journey of building a better environment for children in youth sport to learn, to play and to enjoy. And that journey of building a better environment for youth sport never finishes, because our attempt to make better choices and build better relationships with our players never ends.