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Coaching the Coaches

Coach Z Runs Coaches Clinic

Earlier in September, Coach Z convened with AJA coaches for AJA’s first-ever mandatory coaches clinic. Coach Z has both run and attended many coaches clinics in the past. In this clinic, Coach Z referenced a curriculum he worked on with coaches and school psychologists from around the country over the course of 14 years. The curriculum covers content such as communication, maintaining an excited atmosphere in practices, and team building. 

Coach Z especially stressed team building because AJA somewhat lacked this element of athletics in the past. He noted that team building outside of practice is a “crucial” element of developing a strong team dynamic. However, Coach Z said, in the past “we haven’t done a lot of that.” He explained the established routine, and its drawbacks: “It’s always been the coach just comes in and coaches, and they leave. And if they’re not here full time, it’s really hard to get that relationship.” Without this relationship, the student-athletes only form a group, not a team. Therefore, Coach Z implored coaches to organize activities for their teams outside of practice. 

Coach Z told coaches that they are responsible for initiating clear and direct communication.

The curriculum also described how to “work individually with players versus as a team.” While coaches need to address the team as one, they also need to know how to best connect with each player on an individual level. Coach Z explained that “there [are] individuals out there who may not be at the same level as others.” He worked with coaches to answer the following question: “How do you bring them on the same level?” It is key that a coach can make a group of students a team, despite their individual differences.

As they met, Coach Z detailed what he expects from the coaches. One of the foremost expectations relates to punctuality. Coach Z stated, “My coaches should be early [to practices] because they set the example.” He believes that if coaches do not arrive on time, student-athletes will not either. When coaches arrive early, he then can hold the same standards for students, teaching them time management and accountability.

He also expects coaches to maintain communication with their student-athletes. He believes that there will be less confusion and problems if coaches and student-athletes communicate directly, not through a parent. Coach Z told coaches that they are responsible for initiating clear and direct communication.

The communication skills will specifically be implemented to discuss the amount of playing time each student-athlete receives. Coach Z believes both that “every kid should play,” and also that coaches should put “the best players on the court or on the field.” The focus should remain on winning — Coach Z hopes to develop a “winning culture” —  however, all student-athletes should feel that they are part of the team. He discussed how coaches must maintain this balance through communication. Coach Z underscored that if a student-athlete stays on the bench an entire game, the coach should “immediately go to that person after the game and have a conversation.” Before the clinic, no one ever discussed how to handle such a situation. However, now Coach Z is hoping “that the coaches understand how to look out for these things.”

Above all else, Coach Z emphasized the importance of student-athletes’ “social-emotional stability.” He believes that this is a critical element of athletics, partially dependent on the interactions between coaches and student-athletes. As a result, coaches must consciously support their student-athletes’ social-emotional stability. Without this intact, a “winning culture” is impossible.

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