Youth and interscholastic coaches are often some of the most memorable and influential people in the lives of student athletes. In many cases coaches are as important to student athletes as teachers, and sometimes even parents. Because of the value student athletes place on coaches, it is important to remember the how language and behaviors can effect kids – for better or for worse.
When coaches model pro-social behaviors and use responsible language with kids, the results can be amazing. In fact, often when I talk with student athletes they tell me about how a particular coach shaped their life by teaching integrity, responsibility, mental toughness, resiliency, and countless more life skills. In these instances, student athletes maximize the athletic experience primarily because of great leadership and life skills teachings from a coach.
Unfortunately, not every coach is on his or her game at all times, and sometimes words and actions occur in front of kids that end up having the opposite effect. For example, coaches who bend the rules, engage in poor sportsmanship, regularly argue with officials, or use profanity in front of kids not only miss great opportunities to be a positive role model, but actually teach kids poor ways to interact with others, communicate, and problem solve.
Language & behaviors
When coaching kids it is important use language that is age-appropriate, and engage in behaviors and actions that teach effective communication, problem solving, teamwork, and integrity. Using profanity, coarse slang, and culturally insensitive words are never advised, and in many cases will not only negatively impact relationships with student athletes, but might also lead to bigger problems — like loss of a job or even a lawsuit.
Similar to policing words, it is important that coaches think through their actions, too. For example, blurring the lines when it comes to meeting with kids at inappropriate times (or worse yet, partying with them) is never a good idea. Casual texting is also ill-advised, as are any other behaviors that chip away at an appropriate adult-child relationship.
Improve your game
Because of the many ways in which a “heat of the moment” experience in sports can become emotional, it is important for coaches to think about their leadership style early and often — and not on the sidelines during a game when emotions are high. To help with with healthy coach development a few important questions are provided below:
- Is the language I am using respectful and sensitive?
- Can I make the same points without using profanity?
- When communicating with the kids I coach, do I make sure it is at appropriate times and at appropriate places – like a school office during daytime hours?
- If I use text messaging with kids, do I take the time needed to make sure the message is direct and clear, and not written in a way that a kid could take it the wrong way or get hurt in some way?
- When I become upset, do I have ways in which I can effectively deal with stress without embarrassing, humiliating, or insulting others?
- When I do witness examples of coaches on my staff using profanity and/or engaging in behaviors I feel are not suitable for kids to see, do I know how to properly address the situation so that I can make it a “teachable moment?”
You don’t have to be perfect in order to be a great coach, but you do need to think through how impressionable kids are and the importance of the things you say and do in front of them. Up your game and I can guarantee they will up theirs, resulting in a great team experience for everyone.
Check out the Coach Tool Kit, designed to equip coaches with the skills needed for on and off-field success!