There is a lot that goes into coaching and team building, even at the youth sport level. Getting to know student athletes, including what motivates them to play their best, is a worthwhile endeavor as team success often relies on getting the buy-in from every kid on the team. Put another way, a coach’s “people skills” might be even more important than the amount of sport knowledge the coach has when it comes to a team cohesion, chemistry, and ultimately success. Great coaches know when to push, when to pull back, and when to talk to kids privately about their shortcomings to spare them from embarrassment and humiliation. The challenge, however, is learning what specific people skills are the most important for coaches to develop? As someone who has trained thousands of coaches at clinics over the years, I have four important team building skills that every coach should develop if the goal is to help kids experience success both on and off the field.
Going beyond the X’s and O’s…
Every great coach has an team building approach that he or she feels provides the best chances for success. In reading many of these philosophies over the years, there appear to be four interpersonal skills consistently found, including:
- Competence. The ability to do something successfully and efficiently is referred to as one’s competence, and sport coaches should make it a point to keep up with the latest on-field strategies, contemporary athletic issues, off-field student athlete challenges, physical training trends/problems, and where to secure mental health support when needed. Coaches don’t need to know everything, but they do need to stay active with continuing education and regularly work to improve in areas of weakness.
- Sincerity. Coaches who are sincere exemplify authenticity and genuineness, and they display empathy toward players and their unique challenges and concerns. Sincere coaches believe in their athletes, and they show their genuine appreciation when individual and team goals are met. Being sincere is being real, and athletes are really good at sniffing out coaches who are not genuinely committed to the team.
- Reliability. When it comes to coach reliability we are talking about coaches who can be counted upon. Can players reach out to you when they need advice? Are you going to bring your A-game as a coach even when hit with injuries, grade violations, or other outside problems that impact the team? When kids feel their coach is reliable, they more quickly acclimate to the team and experience less anxiety as a result.
- Trustworthiness. Student athletes regularly tell me about the importance of being able to trust their coach to be honest — even when it’s about things they don’t necessarily want to hear. Can your players trust how you evaluate starting roles and how playing time is awarded? Is your team confident your decisions won’t be persuaded by “politics,” or other irrelevant factors? Do your players feel confident that you have their back if they run into problems?
Obviously there are more skills that go into coaching and team building than just the ones named above, and it is also true that even if you master the skills just outlined it will not guarantee you win multiple championships over the course of your coaching career. What mastering these skills will do is allow you to compete knowing you have put your team in the best position possible to have fun, grow holistically through sports, and develop a strong team chemistry that will allow your team to play its best. Remember, you don’t control what the other team does, but you can coach your team in such a way that it always puts you in a position for success.
Coaching today is a lot different than just a few years ago. The previous authoritarian coaching model is morphing into a more holistically trained coach, one who continues to teach the X’s and O’s of the sport, but also wears the hat of parent, teacher, trainer, psychologist, and mentor. In order to help kids play their best and grow as people from the skills learned in sports, they must first feel as though their coaches are competent, sincere, reliable, and trustworthy. The good news is every coach can develop these skills and soon after witness the benefits by means of a more cohesive team ready to play their best.