Your players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care
When you think about it, great sport coaches are a lot like great teachers. In order for both to be successful, they have to build healthy relationships, encourage learning, model pro-social behaviors, motivate kids to perform their best, reinforce effort, and teach stress-coping skills to strengthen resiliency. Delving deeper, notice how the skills just mentioned do not include school subject content or “X’s and O’s,” but instead highlight how important interpersonal skills are toward building healthy relations leading to greater compliance and, of course, better results. While we can all get caught up racing to teach skills, taking the time needed to build relationships allows us to more effectively and efficiently teach skills, hence the importance of showing kids how much you care.
Getting to know kids
So what is the best way to get to know the kids you coach/teach? The simple answer is to be yourself and find an interest in learning about kids! Promote a positive attitude, smile, offer direct eye contact, ask open-ended questions and listen to what kids say. If you are confused by anything ask for clarification, and if you would like to learn more ask the child to expand on his or her thoughts. As you are listening nod your head from time to time to assure the child you are interested, and thank him or her for sharing more about who they are and what they enjoy doing. The effort you put in to getting to know kids will pay off exponentially, especially as this relates to future motivation, determination, and resiliency.
The reality is while there is no one perfect way to get to know kids, your genuine effort to build healthy relationships will always shine through and provide kids with the confidence needed to try their best. When we race quickly to teach kids skills before getting to know them, we increase the risks for kids experiencing poor focus, divided attention, half-hearted efforts, and ultimately below-ability results. Yes, the alliance we make with kids through genuine interactions is one of, if not the most important variable as it applies to effort and results.
Make yourself approachable
Often kids are intimidated by teachers and coaches, and as a result refrain from asking questions and learning more about what is expected from them. Rather than allow this kind of anxiety to develop in kids, we can do a better job creating user-friendly climates as well as actively inviting kids to ask questions and share their views and opinions. When kids do muster up the courage to speak (something not always easy to do), make sure to validate their comment/question, repeat it for clarification, and provide an answer rooted in accuracy rather than sarcasm or condescension. In fact, by keeping an upbeat demeanor you will be more likely to laugh and smile, inviting the kids to teach and coach to reciprocate with similar affect.
While it is nice to be in the company of intelligent teachers and coaches, those traits can be quickly offset when it appears as though the teacher or coach does not care much for the kids they teach or coach. Instead, make it a point to build strong interpersonal relationships with kids not by impressing them with your accomplishments, but with your interest in helping kids improve in school or sports and feel good about their efforts. The care, empathy, and support you provide kids will allow them to develop the confidence needed to reach their full potential, as well as rebound from adversity.