What is coaching about? I’ve often asked this question both of myself and others. Although the many answers I’ve heard and thought make sense, they just don’t feel right. Transfer of knowledge and skills? Identifying, analysing, and controlling variables that affect performance? Influencing positive behaviour? Helping others achieve their goals? All good answers, but rationalising coaching this way, especially with children, doesn’t seem to fit. It’s as if interacting with people is far harder than following a recipe and getting it right.
However after this morning, as I looked around the playing fields and watched the various coaches with their teams before, during and after the game, a thought struck me. It struck me hard as I observed their interactions. The hand around the shoulder. The quiet word in the ear. The pep talk. The dressing down. The arm waving. The dirt kicking. The attention. The shouting. The feedback. The huddle team talks. The handshakes, fist bumps and high fives. Perhaps coaching might boil down to just one thing.
We invest a lot of that thing, without getting a lot back. But that’s okay. That’s what coaching is about.
Many of the mistakes we make as coaches are about giving it incorrectly, certainly when I reflect back on the mistakes I’ve made. Sometimes we err with it given too tough. When we do this we squash the very thing we are trying to nature, through fear and worry. Sometimes we err with giving too much. When we do this we smother and do not allow a chance to grow. Many times we err because we don’t give any at all and this risks any potential being dissipated unproductively. Each individual we coach requires a different amount. The right amount. Get that right and they will flourish. Get it wrong and at best we lose them to sport, never to return. At worse something far darker.
We need to give it freely and unconditionally, without any desire to have it returned. In giving it freely, we hope we instil it in those we coach for the sport they are participating in. When driven by receiving from those around us, instead of giving, we make the sport about us and not about them. When we give it, there is no guarantees that it will be appreciated or even acknowledged. But that’s okay. That’s what coaching is about.
What is coaching about? Love. Coaching is a type of love. To join eros, philia, storge, agape, ludus, pragma and philautia. But unlike those types of love it is not easily defined. It is dynamic and constantly changing to fit the context and the individual. The type and strength of love given is down to the coach. The coach is on a continual search to give the right amount for the person in front of them, at that moment in time, for them to succeed, to learn and to enjoy. It allows coaches to connect deeply and help their players not just be better, but live better lives. This is a deeply complex task that not only requires knowledge of the player, but a knowledge of themselves. Along with good judgement and decision making based on experience. Finding the right love to give, especially in youth sport, is in essence what coaching is about.