School athletics can be helpful beyond just keeping you fit and offering you something to put on your college applications. It's possible to learn some great life skills through sports, including the obvious ones of teamwork and dedication. And a good relationship with your coach helps you get the most out of your chosen sport.
What Your Coach Can Do for You
Obviously, you can draw on your coach's expertise to improve how you play, how you psych yourself up before a game, or how you deal with a big loss or setback. Not only have coaches dealt with lots of players and seen which techniques work and which don't, but many of them have played the sport themselves and can share their personal experiences.
Your coach can also help you play your best and push your limits without injury. Many coaches have completed courses in athletic health care. They're trained in using injury prevention measures, including warm-up activities or tapes, bandages, and wraps. And they've been educated in assessing and ensuring a player gets the best treatment for an injury if an accident does happen.
Off the playing field, coaches can be good mentors and advisers, offering an adult perspective on nonsports problems or questions. (Many Olympic and professional athletes have had strong relationships with their coaches outside the game.)
Relationships with your coach can be different from relationships you have with your parents or teacher. Those relationships follow a more established structure, whereas a coach is usually closer to your level, working equally with you toward a common goal. You might feel more comfortable opening up to your coach about all sorts of things, from problems at home to difficulties in school.
Tips for Getting Along With Your Coach
You need a good relationship with your coach if you're going to put in those long hours and tough practices. The coach is the one setting the schedule, and if you plan to drag yourself to swim practice at 5:30 AM or do layups for 2 hours, you have to like the person who's making you break a sweat. If you don't respect your coach, you're more likely to resent all the hard work instead of appreciating how it can help you in the long run. The reverse is also true — it's tempting to promise all sorts of stuff to a coach you respect and want to impress. But be realistic in what you tell your coach you can do. Failing to follow through will only erode the trust between you.
Ideally, a relationship between a coach and an athlete is based on mutual respect and trust. You can make a good impression by showing up for practice on time, abiding by team rules, and always putting a lot of effort into your performance, whether it's a workout or a game, meet, or match.
But to truly build respect, you have to do more than go through the motions. Your coach's expertise and experience makes him or her an authority figure within the sports setting. Even if you sometimes don't agree with your coach's opinion, it can help to recognize that he or she has a lot more experience than you do. If you don't understand the reasons behind your coach's directions, approach him or her about it. Communication is crucial so both athlete and coach know what the other wants to achieve.
Figuring out how the coach manages the team will also help you develop your relationship. Coaches can fall into two types: those who run their teams based on obedience and those who rely on responsibility.
Obedience coaches basically say, "I'm the one in charge, and I'm going to make the rules." This approach can work well in a team setting as players know that their coach has the confidence and experience to make a sure decision. To develop a good relationship with this type of coach, you have to follow the rules and respect his or her authority.
Responsibility coaches allow the players to have more input in setting team policies, like deciding which reasons for missing practice are valid or how to reprimand someone who's always late. You should show respect for this type of coach as well, but his or her approach to running the team is not as rigid. (If you think a team rule is unfair, for example, the coach might be open to revising it.)
Common Coach Problems
Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys a great relationship with every coach they meet. Teens and their coaches often disagree about the amount of time team members get to play or favoritism the coach shows to certain players. Some athletes also complain that their coaches are too bossy and take all the fun out of the sport.
But one of the easiest ways for a relationship with a coach to go bad is for the coach to focus on winning instead of striving to improve. When a team feels too much pressure to win, the athletes can feel underappreciated, and that damages the trust between the coach and the team.
If you feel apprehensive about approaching your coach for any reason, try talking to the team captain about the problem that you are having. The captain's job is to be there for any player who needs help and feels that they can relate to someone closer to their age or mindset. He or she will try to help you and the coach find a compromise that you can both agree on.
What to Do If You Don't Get Along
If you do get off to a bad start with your coach, take steps to repair the damage. It's best not to involve your parents in minor issues like how much playing time you're getting. Instead, find a time to sit down with the coach and discuss what's bothering you. Schedule a time when your coach can focus on your issues (when he or she isn't running practice or in the middle of a game).
When you talk, try not to complain. Instead, ask for help in fixing the problem. Listen carefully to the coach's response and try to understand where he or she is coming from; your coach might not have realized you'd been given less playing time or might not have known you wanted a bigger role on the team. Your coach may not be aware of the issues going through your mind as he or she has to account for all the players on the team. So it can really help to speak up about stuff that's bothering you. Usually, once you express yourself, the two of you will understand each other better and can work on building a stronger relationship. If the situation doesn't improve, though, you will have to decide if you can live with the way the coach runs the team.
Unlike a simple disagreement over playing time, some situations call for immediate action. If a coach is verbally abusing you or driving you so hard that you're afraid you may injure yourself, talk to your parents and set up a meeting with the coach's supervisor. There's usually someone above your coach's authority, like an athletic director or the principal.
Although at times it can be tough to get along with a coach, a strong and fair coach can be a great asset to a team and the individual player. The best coaches help athletes develop life skills along with their sports skills, setting you up for better opportunities in the future.
Reviewed by: Steve Sanders, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2007