I grew up in a household where you had to play a sport. You didn't necessarily have to be good at it, but you had to be on a team and participating in an athletic activity. Throughout my life, I've dabbled in many sports, and had my fair share of good and bad coaches. But while everyone blames that bad coach for the loss of fire or love for the game, they don't usually take the time to think about what that bad coach taught them.
Whether it was a lesson in self-worth, self-respect, or toughing it out, the bad coaches taught you just as much as the really good ones did. The lesson may not have been in the sport, and may not have been the one they meant to teach, but I will never forget the day I realized this: every day, I showed up to practice and didn't quit was a day that coach didn't get to win.
I asked a bunch of my friends what they wanted to hear before they competed. Most of them said they wanted to hear that their coach believed in them, that they were strong and ready, and that they had put in the work to get the results. Everyone wants the same validation, and most coaches are former players so they know that need for validation. So why do some of them lead you into competition with a feeling of unease?
One of my good friends, a former University of Wyoming wrestler, responded with: "Bad coaches are so nervous and they push it on the athlete by screaming or talking way too much. Too much info in any sport is bad. Specific, positive, calm info is best. Showing the calmness and confidence you want to see in your athlete through your actions and tone. They need to be the calm during the storm that I can look to and know they're on my side."
A bad coach projects their lack of confidence onto their athletes, a good coach looks at their athlete and fills them with the confidence to step onto the battlefield, and the perseverance to stay in the fight. So often, coaches think that high energy is necessary on game day, but the energy should have been built up all through preparation. Game day is the quiet lighting of the match and watching your fire burn.
Many times coaches try and find an emotional motivation. Some athletes work well when they're being yelled at, but trying to become a common enemy for your team to rally against only worked for Herb Brooks. You want your team to trust you to create a game plan that will lead them to victory. A former teammate of mine told me the best thing to hear from a coach was to play with passion, and to find the lesson in a hard game. If you won it means you've learned something from the times you've lost.
Emotional terrorism is a common coaching technique or breaking players down in order to be the one who builds them back up together. But many athletes never get over the hurt and the distrust that come from the personal attacks while breaking them down. Physically breaking a team down to teach them to lean on each other and carry each other through medieval torture tactics like the workhorse, suicides, the beep test, 13 in 13, etc works because at the end of the task the team feels stronger as individuals, and they feel stronger in their bond with the girl who suffered next to them. But often times coaches think emotional attacks will render the same results, and many players lose their will to come to practice just to be belittled and demoralized.
I've had my fair share of bad coaches, but I have also had my fair share of good coaches. It takes more than knowing the sport and being able to teach it to make a good coach. Plenty of bad coaches understand the game.
There have been a few times in my life where I have called up my dad and told him I wanted to quit--something you don't do in my family. I told him I couldn't handle the emotional abuse--from coaches and teammates on an occasion. I couldn't handle being pulled after one mistake when others got multiple chances, and I just didn't want to do it anymore. My dad reminded me that I loved the game, I had worked this hard, and I was tougher than quitting. He also reminded me I was as mean as a rattlesnake (his words) and could take anything. He told me these moments were preparing me for when it came time to enter the workforce and I had a boss I didn't like, or wasn't appreciated, or reprimanded for something that wasn't my fault; I wasn't going to pack my stuff and quit. I was going to figure out a way to make it work.
I knew a team once who had a coach that literally knew nothing about the game. He sat on the bench and yelled things that didn't have any instructional value, and was a glorified babysitter. I watched that team have the worst season any of them had ever experienced, and I watched those athletes dig deep, band together, and fight every time they stepped onto the field. When a new coach came in the next year, they were such a cohesive unit, and with a little bit of direction, they got farther than they've ever gone in program history. While a good coach came in and taught them how to be successful in the game, the bad coach taught them the importance of having each other's back, working together, and finding direction despite a lack of leadership.
We all blame the bad coaches for our loss of love for the game and thank the good coaches for the life lessons and life-changing opportunities they presented. But we have to remember that in surviving bad coaches we learned what we wanted from a good coach, and we learned what strengths we posses as individuals.