Building Credit

January 29, 2015
By Keith Manos

Keith Manos is a teacher, writer, and a coach. He is the author of:Wrestling Coach's Survival Guide: Practical Techniques and Materials for Building an Effective Program and a Winning Team, 101 Ways to Motivate Athletes, and Coach's and Athletic Director's Complete Book of Forms and Letters. He can be reached at: [email protected]

With the start of a new school year and the fall sports seasons, part of an athletic director’s job is to reach out to those coaches who are new to the program. For some of these fresh faces, this season may be their first coaching opportunity. So with that in mind, Keith Manos provides a preseason primer for coaches on establishing credibility and gaining the confidence of players and parents during those important first weeks of the season.
There is so much to accomplish during the first week of the season that many coaches approach it with more anxiety than enthusiasm. That’s because in one short week, coaches must handle forms and paperwork for every athlete, establish their rules, teach skills and strategies, and get both the team and the school excited about the coming season. But the most important duty of that first week is to establish credibility, which, in simple terms, means being accepted by both players and parents as a competent, confident, and committed leader with everyone believing in the coach and his or her program.

Coaches establish this belief by what they say and how they say it. This can, at times, be the kind of image a coach wants to reflect. No matter what that image is, they have got to work at it the same way a public relations firm works for a client corporation. Indeed, credibility prompts athletes to respect their coach and prepare for a successful season.

Be Competent
Competent coaches are always in control. They are prepared each day to teach skills and strategies even through potential interruptions and annoying distractions. Coaches demonstrate competency by:
• Showing an effective knowledge of the sport’s strategies, rules, and history.
• Teaching the fine points of every technique.
• Being dynamic and enthusiastic.
• Treating all athletes in a fair and consistent manner.
• Having a history of positive team performances.

The athletes must see their coach as competent enough to lead and willing to take risks to improve each athlete’s individual performances. Athletes need to believe their coach knows what they’re talking about and cares about them. Most teenagers can tell when a coach isn't knowledgeable, honest, or consistent.

I know one veteran high school wrestling who had rarely experienced any kind of success. However, his credibility came from being demanding, enthusiastic, and hard working and building a successful program at that school. When athletes sense that a coach both respects and understands them, even before that coach has a single win, he or she can establish credibility.

For veteran coaches who have achieved a legacy of success or enjoy a loyal following, credibility is usually easier to secure, but with every new season this obligation is the same. At practice or in competitions, athletes should see their coach as an expert who knows what they need to do in order to win.

Be Confident
When you display confidence, athletes are more likely to maximize their efforts in practice and games, be enthusiastic about their place on the squad, and maintain a persistent attitude toward a specified goal. Any coach’s confidence could be challenged during that first week of practice, especially if he or she is a novice or new to the school.

Therefore, it’s important to immediately create conditions at practice that keep the athletes busy, disciplined, and motivated. Coaches can capitalize on an athlete’s intrinsic motivation by challenging him or her to learn new techniques and overcome the fear of failure. Avoid using punishment if players fail to master those new techniques and tolerate mistakes when they do occur, since errors are natural to any learning process. Work to eliminate those errors through instruction and drilling. In short, build self-esteem and keep tension to a minimum. Act in a friendly and understanding manner.

For most athletes to feel they can win competitions, they need to have confidence in the coaches who lead them. The head coach, like any leader, has to project credibility; that is, the coach has mastered the techniques and all their variables, and the athletes are convinced those techniques can work for them.

Be Committed
Once coaches demonstrate their commitment, they are more likely to increase their athletes' motivation. The players, parents, and administrators will come to admire them for their compassion and concern.

Robert Kanaby, Executive Director of the NFHS, tells coaches: “You just don't walk away when the game is won or lost. There's a responsibility that carries itself into the locker room, into the school bus, and right on down the line.” A coach should be the model of commitment the athletes can imitate.

Organizing a successful program usually demands an awesome commitment. Vince Dooley, who coached many Southeastern Conference championship football teams at the University of Georgia, advises coaches, “After you have made a commitment, you must keep your mind open to new ideas and learn from your experiences with players and coaches. Coaching is a continuous educational process, and you must learn from everyone around you.”

The coach must look upon each new season as a learning experience—for both themselves and their players. It is then that coaches must determine what motivates each athlete personally and remain confident and committed through any early setbacks. Veteran Ohio wrestling coach Pat Palumbo sees one constant in each of his 30 seasons: “Kids need to learn to win, like learning to read and write. It's an ongoing process each new season.”
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