January 3, 2017

Athlete-Centered Coaching & Why It Matters for Our Student Athletes

Anyone who knows my educational background knows that I attended the University of Virginia for my graduate degree. While I was there I had the opportunity to meet many intelligent and talented individuals. I'm thankful to consider Marshall Milbrath a colleague, as well as a friend, and his latest research piece really spoke to me on multiple levels. In education, we hear about student-centered classrooms all the time. Many educators, especially at the middle and high school level, dedicate their after school time to impacting students in athletics as coaches. Too often I see this idea of student-based instruction and learning fade to the background when transitioning to the athletic field, but why? We know students are more engaged, enticed, and willing to learn when they have control of that learning, so why are we abandoning it on the sports field, especially when research is leading us to the same conclusion?
While it has been suggested that research must continue to develop a working definition of athlete-centered coaching, common methods recognized as athlete-centered practices have been identified. This review describes some of these approaches taking into account scientific findings from a multitude of sports contexts, rationales for why these should be considered by the track coach in her or his practice, and recommendations for its implementation.  - Milbrath (2017). 
If you really want to dive into the research behind athlete-centered coaching, I highly recommend reading Marshall's article (linked above), but for this post I want to talk about real athlete-centered strategies that middle and high school coaches can implement right now. Before we get there, it's important to understand what athlete-centered coaching is and Marshall summed it up like this, "The athlete-centered approach breaks away from negative articulations in coaching, while reducing the prevalence of autocratic, “win-at-all cost” mentalities common in many sporting contexts. Athlete-centered coaching adopts an attitude of facilitation and teaching. By focusing on teaching the mind, body, and spirit of the athlete, humanistic needs are fulfilled and athletes are empowered."

So how can we adjust our coaching styles to better our athletes in an athlete-centered environment right now?

  1. Understand Your Audience: Our athletes, their goals, the team atmosphere, and so many other factors change every year. If we want our approach to be athlete-centered, we have to adapt how we lead our team each year. Even if our team has many returning players, those few loses or new additions make it a completely different team. This leads into...

  2. Get to Know Your Athletes: Even at the middle school level, I use a short and simple personality test with each of my athletes. This accomplishes two major tasks, I get to know them and they get to know themselves. When athletes are more self-aware of their behaviors and goals, they can better advocate to us what they need. In the same token, it allows us as coaches to identify their strengths and weaknesses more efficiently, while gaining a better understanding of their learning styles.

  3. Be Purposeful: Every coaching decision you make in practice or in a game should be made with a specific purpose. This sounds like common sense, but I'm not just referring to decisions based on strategy and how to win games. Being purposeful in athlete-centered coaching is understanding the implications that decisions have on athletes and their mental, physical, and social well-being. 

  4. Create a Team Philosophy: A philosophy is more than just a simple mission statement or expectations list for players. A philosophy tells your athletes, parents, and administration why your team has value. You can find an awesome sample list of coaching philosophies here. You can also find a wonderful article with advice on how to create your own unique coaching philosophy here.

  5. Set Goals: Perform this task on your own prior to the season and then sit down with your athletes to have them set their own. Be sure all goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound). Check in during set time frames to see how athletes are achieving goals and coach them through setbacks. 
As we enter the spring coaching season, make small steps to move toward an athlete-centered mindset. You won't change your coaching style immediately, but small changes can have a large impact over time. 

No comments:

Post a Comment