Coaching Dilemma – Letting Athletes Grow – Part I

High school athletes often become attached to their high school coaches. For those who don’t, moving on to college athletics is a relief. High school coaches often become attached to their athletes. And letting go is sometimes as tough as parents letting go and seeing their child go off to college.

The situation I have encountered both personally and anecdotally from other coaches is the high school athlete who moves on to the next level and enters a far higher competitive environment in which the coaching staff have little time, energy and (from all observations) interest in nurturing their athletes. Though this can occur at any level this tends to be more true at the NCAA Division I level but I have found it at D-II and NAIA schools as well. [*Note: I also know this can be true of an athlete with a club coach and school coach.]

What do you – the high school coach (and maybe even a parent) – do when your former athlete calls you in anger, frustration, depression or tears about such things as:

  • the lack of attention by coaches (treated as a number),
  • constant demands from coaches (must perform or else),
  • lack of understanding or concern for the athlete’s issues (just perform),
  • difficulty in dealing with changes in coaching leadership and training philosophy (rationale behind new workout scheme or changes not explained),
  • sole focus on the star of the team or varsity squad,
  • dismissive response to athlete’s input or feedback (if you don’t like it leave),
  • treated like you’re replaceable (can’t hack it then there are plenty on the team right behind you who’ll take your place)

We can acknowledge that these situations are hard on athletes. These calls are also tough on the former coach. Dealing with and helping your athletes deal with life. It is also one aspect of  developing mental toughness – resiliency.

Coaches (and parents) need to:

  • Learn how to be empathetic without trying to rescue. Sometimes the situation is upsetting but not as life and death as perhaps originally posed. Allowing the athlete to safely “get it out of their system” may be all they need.
  • Act as a sounding board.  Reflecting back what the athlete is saying gives an opportunity for them to re-evaluate the situation.
  • Allow the athlete a safe environment to express themselves without telling them “I told you so” or having some authority figure take over their problems.
  • If you know ways the athlete can constructively improve the situation – share them. But do not insist on a path of action. This is their situation not yours.
  • Use the opportunity to help the athlete refocus on what he or she controls (themselves).

Athletes need to:

  • Find ways to learn from every situation. If you learn, you grow.
  • Keep communication lines open with your college (current) coach. It does no good to talk to past coaches or your parents. It’s time to become mature enough to talk to the source of issues.
  • Be creative in solving issues. Though asking for some advice or input is smart (no one has all the answers) you have to own your actions.
  • Learn coping skills for the things they cannot change. This is a critical aspect of mental toughness – developing the ability to effectively cope with that which you cannot change.
  • If you cannot cope then have the courage to change the situation. You may need to move on to a better environment.

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