How Coaching Styles Matter

Take it from me, a guy who coached first soccer and then ice hockey for many years, coaching styles matter. They matter a lot. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and ask me how I know? Go ahead. Ask.

When I was ten-years-old, my first year playing soccer, my coach he only played me half a game because AYSO told him he had to. Forty-three years later, I still remember that comment.

That comment doesn’t hurt me, stress me out or affect me in any way other than as a reminder that when I’m coaching kids, what I say matters. How I say it matters too. As does my overall attitude and demeanor.

Why? Because of kids. Our kids. Your kids. All kids. Matter. And so do their feelings. Believe me, they won’t remember how you did in a particular season, but they’ll remember if a coach treated them with respect or if they didn’t.

They’ll also remember the things the coach taught them that had nothing to do with the game. I always made it a point to teach my players about teamwork, sportsmanship and respect. As I watched my former players grow and eventually make it to high school and college I saw those same qualities in them, both on and off the ice.

There are coaches who coach through yelling and intimidation and then there are coaches who take a softer approach. Unfortunately, too many of our kid’s coaches take the former style while actually mocking the coaches who don’t see their players as targets for rage.

With ice hockey, I coached at the recreational level as young as nine all the way through travel hockey, including a nationally known girl’s program, and high school. I saw coaches at every level who would tear a player apart on the bench after they made a mistake. My approach was different.

I would go to the player and ask them (not in a raised voice) if they knew what they did wrong. If they didn’t, I explained it to them and we moved on from there. If they did know what they did, I would ask them to explain it to me, so I made sure we were both on the same page.

If we were on the same page I would ask them if they’re going to make that mistake again and wait for them to say, “no.” They always say no. After that, I would look at them, say something along the lines of, “OK, then. Let’s keep doing this thing.”

In both scenarios, the one where the coach screams and the one where the coach quietly talks to the player, the player ends up knowing what they did wrong. The difference is in how they feel afterwards.

One player will be playing the rest of that game (and probably beyond) with fear of failure on their mind and the other can go back out more relaxed because someone didn’t just bite their head off.

No matter what the sport, coaches have a lot to teach the players they’re entrusted with. How they teach it and how they relate to and interact with our kids is every bit as important as the athletic knowledge that’s imparted.

I have one last story to share and then we’re done. This involved a team of eleven and twelve-year-old recreational ice hockey players.

We were in the midst of a winning season. We lost our share of games, but still won more than we lost. On this particular team, I had two players that were pretty dominant. After probably the third game or so I came to realize that if I let them, these two kids would score all our team’s goals.

Before our next game, I sat down with the two players and asked them if they remembered when they first started playing and weren’t as skilled as the other kids. Luckily for me, both said yes.

Then I asked if they remembered scoring their first goals and again they both replied yes. The last question was the one that hit home.

“When you were new, did you have players on your team who scored all the goals and if so, were you hoping you could score a goal?”

They, of course, both responded yes and then we came to an agreement that after they had scored a couple goals, their job was now to pass to the players who haven’t scored yet or who rarely score.

That same game we ended up playing a team that was not good. Each of my two players quickly netted a pair of goals and before I could say something to my two players, I watched as they gathered their forward lines together and each player talked with his other two teammates on the ice with them. The players were told that they needed to get in front of the net because it was time for them to score and to start looking for the puck to be passed to them.

It made me proud that not only did these young kids have it in them to listen to and understand what I talked to them about, but also that they put the game plan into action before I even had the chance to remind them. In a world of me, me, me, these two kids were happy to spread the wealth around.

Don’t ever forget that how we coach kids today matters and it matters a lot.

My guess is, we all want to see strong adults that know how to respect other people and are willing to put themselves aside for the benefit of a team. It doesn’t matter f that team is work, family or an actual athletic team, if that’s what we truly want to see then we need to start by coaching our kids to have those qualities when they grow up.

Do you want to talk about how to have richer, more mindful, and enduring relationships?