This post will be the first of a few that come from some ideas I wrote in my first two booklets A Head Coach’s Guide for Working with Assistants and The Assistant Coach’s Guide to Coaching. While those booklets were born out of some specific head coach/assistant coach issues I was facing with some members of a coaching staff for whom I was an athletic director, many of the ideas in them form the basis for good coaching principles in general. Today, I want to talk about the concept of how it is important for coaches to adopt the mindset of being a teacher.
Now I am not advocating that all coaches have to be actual schoolteachers to coach. While I have long maintained that the best job combination for a coach to have is to also be a schoolteacher, there are many great coaches who are not schoolteachers. We do not want to lose the good coaches that we have just because they are not classroom teachers in our schools.
What I am advocating is that coaches need to recognize that they are in the profession of teaching. Teaching is a critical component of coaching, and hence, coaches need to become proficient in all that they can when it comes to the art of teaching. The skills that a teacher learns in education classes and then learns by getting up in front of a class and teaching are the skills that a coach needs to possess to be able to teach kids how to play their games.
One of the most important, yet underrated, elements of coaching is the ability to teach. Don’t get me wrong – people involved in the higher levels of coaching for many years don’t see it as underrated. But to the average fan or person out there, it is often overlooked as one of the keys to a successful coach.
This is especially true with young coaches and with new coaches. So often, people who are fans of a sport will sit in front of a TV set or in a gym and think, “I could do that. I played high school ball,” or “I played college ball. I know more than that guy.” That may be true, but what you know is of little consequence if you can’t communicate it clearly to the kids.
I have known teachers and coaches in my time who had a vast knowledge of the subject matter or sport they were teaching or coaching. However, they were terrible teachers or coaches because they couldn’t get it through to the kids. Either they failed to teach it so it could be understood, or they never established good relationships with kids, or they got frustrated too easily when the kids didn’t pick it up right away, or some other reason in a long list of problems.
I have also known teachers and coaches who had a limited knowledge of the subject or sport but who were excellent teachers and coaches. They communicated well, established positive relationships with kids, understood that not all kids are going to “get it” at the same pace, and generally just worked well within the framework of the experience.
It helps if coaches have a bit of knowledge of some basic teaching methods and a bit of understanding of how people learn, especially kids. Obviously, there are many teaching methods in the world. The head coach needs to help the assistant learn what will work best for working with his kids. From teaching skills to instilling discipline and commitment to team, how a coach teaches is of great importance.
A coach needs to know how to have “classroom management”; it’s just that her classroom is a court, field, track, or some other athletic arena. She needs to be able to have the discipline and control necessary for a group of kids to pay attention and learn.
Also, a coach needs to know “teaching techniques” to be able to help kids learn the skills and concepts she is teaching. She must have a variety of methods on hand to use to get the points across to the kids. While a coach needs to understand teaching techniques, she also should have an understanding of “learning styles.” Coaches need to try to tap into the different ways that kids learn in order to maximize the chances for success.
Finally, coaches need to have some level of understanding of “educational psychology.” There’s more to teaching and coaching kids than just explaining subject matter and X’s and O’s. It helps to know the personalities of kids and how to deal with them. It also helps to know how to be a counselor, for coaches end up counseling kids as much as anything else they do.
The roles of teacher and coach are intertwined in many ways. I have always called myself a “coach in the classroom, and a teacher on the court” as a way of showing that both roles are linked so strongly that you can’t really tell the difference between the two. However, as is the case with most things, the teaching and coaching must be done intentionally to create the experience we are seeking to provide the children in the different arenas in which we work.
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