Three Kinds of Coaches and How to Tell Them Apart

Three Kinds of Coaches and How to Tell Them Apart

By David Benzel

To be a credible coach – a most noble goal – a coach must earn the respect of parents as well as young athletes. Most coaches are honorable and we can trust that their overall intentions are positive. But parents need to be aware of three possibilities when it comes to the true motives and goals of any coach.

Three Kinds of Coaches

The Great Coach: a coach who is dedicated to making a positive impact on the athletic journey AND the life journey of a young athlete. This is the John Wooden model. He exemplified this noble approach when he answered a Booster club member’s question about how good a team he had that year. “I don’t yet – ask me in 30 years.” His commitment was to change the lives of young men by building champions, not championships. The latter was a by-product of the former. His utmost commitment was to teach character lessons in the context of the game he loved. Wooden had high standards of conduct for himself and for his players. Everyone knew what was expected on and off the court.

The Good Coach: a coach who is dedicated to making a positive impact on the athletic journey of a young athlete. This more limited aspiration is the norm. Most coaches give lip service to being a Great coach but in reality focus their time and energy solely on physical skills, game strategies, and cardio conditioning. The goal is to win championships and give athletes the skills and experience necessary to play at the next level. In this context, sport, not the life journey, is the center of the universe.

The Ego Coach: a coach who is deceptively hiding his motive to satisfy whatever selfish needs must be satisfied to feel fulfilled – intellectually, emotionally, or physically. This coach will often project high and lofty goals for those in his charge but witnesses will notice the lack of real effort or commitment to achieving those goals because they are not the real goals. This coach will deceive himself and others in an effort to satisfy the ego. Self is the center of the universe. The evidence can be seen in:

  • The pursuit of improving the win/loss record solely for the sake of job security
  • Tantrums over poor performances which are seen as embarrassing
  • Bragging about strategies and victories over others
  • Berating or ridiculing athletes
  • Pursuing inappropriate relationships with athletes

A Parent’s Game Plan

Parents need to have a game plan of their own and the best one is a “Check-Out and Check-In” approach.

To Check-Out means to do your homework about a coach. Ask others you trust about a coach’s character, a coach’s caring, and a coach’s competencies. Go to practices occasionally, as well as competitions, to observe the behavior and reactions of a coach. Get to know a coach through appropriate opportunities for parent interactions, like formal and informal meetings. If a coach does not welcome parent interactions, consider this a red flag.

To Check-In means to establish a routine of having regular conversations with your child about the coaching he or she is receiving. Checking-in with your child does not mean interfering with the coaching. It does mean verifying that your child is being treated with respect, being held accountable for team standards, and is comfortable with the relationship being developed with the coach. Your child may be uncomfortable with the workouts or the changes required for skill development. That’s normal and even healthy. But he or she should have a sense that the coach is sincerely and appropriately interested in the personal and skill development of every athlete. Ask your child to share information about how the coach talks to the athletes and how they are treated.

It is completely appropriate to make your children aware that coaches come in a variety of styles, shapes, colors, and skills, and those differences do not make them good or bad people. Teach your children that every coach can teach them something of value for their development. However, also make your child aware that a coach has a responsibility to treat every athlete with respect – intellectually, emotionally, and physically – and that you’d like to know about any incident in which that is not the case.

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David Benzel is the Founder and Executive Director of Growing Champions for Life, Inc., which provides parents and coaches with practical tools & positive strategies for helping athletes reach their full potential while enjoying the youth sport experience. David is also the author of “From Chump to Champ – How Individuals Go From Good to Great”