Speed, agility, power, and intelligence are four qualities youth sports coaches look for in every child athlete. It’s like a dream come true when you find an athlete with high levels of all four elements. But the truth is, the perfect athlete is a rare find. Most athletes are a unique and imperfect mixture of these qualities. They possess high amounts of one or two, and medium to low amounts of the others.
What qualities are you looking for as you assemble your team of coaches? Is there such a thing as the perfect coach? What qualities would that coach possess? Here are four possibilities and their primary strength.
- The Manager Coach – Structure
- The Fireplug Coach – Inspiration
- The Teacher Coach – Instruction
- The General Coach -- Strategy
Manager coaches rely heavily on their organizational skills to create reliable schedules, processes, and systems upon which athletes and parents can depend. They are likely to believe strongly in paying attention to details and a systematic approach to solving issues. Careful planning and self-discipline regarding scheduled practices and use of time are highly valued by this coach. The belief is that this emphasis leads to consistent and predictable performance.
Fireplug coaches rely on the natural power of human relationships to accomplish big goals. They believe in the importance of synergy, participation, teamwork, and interpersonal skills. Creating a positive learning culture that attracts the best out of people is a primary objective. The emphasis is on stimulating performance through support and empowerment of others. This coach places a priority on stimulating the sport environment with emotional energy and charisma, but is also committed to showing empathy and concern for the athlete.
Teacher coaches believe knowledge and perfect repetition are the primary ingredients of peak performance. For this reason, teaching is job #1. There is great emphasis placed on analysis of mechanics, correction, and the accurate delivery of important information through explanations and demonstration. This coach is keenly aware of the cause and effect of various techniques and strives to be the source of important information that will make a difference in performance.
General coaches believe the primary goal is to develop athletes that know how to win. They emphasize tactics and strategies for gaining a competitive advantage. Winning is of paramount importance, therefore competition theory is examined and a certain amount of cunning or cleverness is viewed as essential. This coach is agile and in-the-moment when it comes to decision making, and expects athletes to use this approach in every competitive environment – which can be viewed as “any time/any place.”
Each of these approaches to coaching produces a noticeable environment for athletes. Each one by itself is incomplete without the others.
- The Manager Coach – feels like a Factory
- The Fireplug Coach – feels like a Family
- The Teacher Coach – feels like a School
- The General Coach – feels like a Battle
As you build your team of coaches, it's not likely you’ll find many coaches with equal amounts of skill in all four areas. They will be an imperfect blend of the four. Each one will prefer to rely upon his/her strongest gift – regardless of the situation – and that can be a problem. This is similar to the way an athlete who lacks speed will try to make up for it with power; or an intelligent athlete will attempt to outsmart an opponent when agility is what’s needed.
The answer for your coaching staff is similar to the answer for a team of athletes -- diversity. If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. All four dimensions are needed to handle the various coaching situations that arise. In the absence of each coach being equally gifted in all for areas, surround yourself with coaches who complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Here are three guidelines to assembling your ideal coaching team.
1. When interviewing coaches, ask questions that reveal which of the following tendencies dominate each candidate’s behaviors. Identify each person’s strengths. Only one or two of the following themes will surface as primary for each candidate. Two or three of these will be weaker themes.
- Schedules, rules, process, regimen, planning, systems, organization
- Emotions, spirit, personal needs, relationships, energy, team-work
- Progress, skill development, analysis, repetition, mechanics
- Outcomes, tactics, winning, game theory, cleverness, strategies
2. Choose coaches who are NOT like you, but instead bring a different quality to the practice environment. Overcome the urge to surround yourself with people who see and react to situations exactly like you do, as long as their values and philosophy are in alignment with yours.
3. Once your team is in place, talk openly about which approach – or combination of approaches – is needed when trying to meet the needs of your athletes. Different athletes need different remedies. One size does not fit all when it comes to helping athletes mature.
The best sports organizations demonstrate agility in their approach to performance challenges. They create customized responses that fit various circumstances when working with athletes. They have the personnel and the tools for thoughtfully responding, not just reacting. In this way you can play the most appropriate coach in the right position, the same way you would an athlete.
The coaching team you assemble around you is as important as the athletic team you assemble for competition. It could be argued that the strength, diversity of skills, and cohesiveness of your coaching team will determine the development and success of your team of athletes. The ripple effect of a great coaching staff will benefit your athletes for years. Choose your coaches wisely and your athletes will thank you forever.