Over the past five years I have had the opportunity to coach high school athletes in baseball, softball, and basketball. There were a lot of ups and downs and lots of learning along the way. Not only did I have to learn how to manage teenagers, but I had to learn how to manage parents as well (a task in itself). When I was fresh out of playing college baseball, I began my coaching career as an assistant baseball coach at Lexington High School. Right out of the gate, the only thing I cared about was developing players physically and winning games. Well, I soon learned that was only one of the many focuses of being a high school coach. As a coach in the public school district, all types of kids walk through the doors with their respective motives, skill sets, and problems at home. Soon, the job title as “coach” becomes a host of other job titles (i.e. counselor or role model to name a few).
Below are some points of emphasis that I learned (on-the-go) that aspiring young coaches may want to take into consideration:
1) It’s not all about winning games.
Believe it or not, coaching in the public schools is not always about winning games. The program expectations range from school to school, and sometimes your job as a coach depends on winning, but there are other important factors that are required in running a successful program. I can recall a time at Lexington when my baseball team was just above .500, but we ended up one win away from the Final Four. Successful regular season? Average. Successful season overall? Absolutely. Getting players to buy into the program and always putting the program’s integrity before winning is one of the first steps.
2) Everybody needs a role.
As I mentioned before, you never know what is going to walk through the doors into day one of practice. At Lexington, we had a high school enrollment of less than 300. Needless to say, there were no cuts taking place in any athletic program. Nothing is worse than having players who do not have roles. They can become a cancer and tear a team down. In my list of top ten favorite players I have coached, there was a handful who did not go on to play college baseball, or receive any post-season awards. They were the type of kids that you admire because of their deep commitment and ridiculous work ethics. These were the kind of kids who did not touch the varsity field until maybe their senior year, and in that senior year they played huge roles. As freshmen, these kids had trouble walking and chewing bubble gum, but due to the program being bigger than life itself, they bought in and came to work every single day. How does a coach create an atmosphere to get lower level skilled athletes to buy into the program? The first step, is making sure everyone on the team is important. As a coach, you can never write a kid off because of their skill set. Secondly, treating the junior varsity and freshman teams the same as the varsity team. Equal reps in practice and scrimmaging with a mixed group of varsity and junior varsity players are some examples. The bottom line is; give kids a purpose.
3) Preparing for life after the sport.
This may be the most difficult point of all, and a point that takes years of managing players. I’ll admit, I never mastered preparing athletes for life after sports, but I can touch on a few things I emphasized while coaching. To better illustrate in preparing high school athletes for life after sports, take a look at the picture below. The Sphere of Commitment is a document I used with my softball team at Lexington. In summary, the coaching staff pushed for our athletes to become quality citizens and leaders in our community and school. *Note-I stole this from Coach Gary Adams of UCLA and modified it to fit my needs.
All in all, these experiences have helped me tremendously in learning how to build relationships will all types of different young athletes. The same principles can be applied to strength and conditioning, a career that I am currently pursuing. Thanks for looking and feel free to place your comments below.