The importance of coaching in the modern age

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Whatever they are called, coaches, advisors, trainers--that is really immaterial. What seems to be a constant is that athletes, at all levels, need someone to discuss their training with, their reactions to that training, their fears and their concerns. As a former coach, I have seen some very successful coach-athlete relationships and I thought I would provide some examples.....

Coach as teacher...this type of relationship is particularly used with high school and younger athletes. First of all, there is alot to show young athletes about proper warm up, workouts and cooldowns. There is the importance, at this age of giving the young athlete an authority figure that they can count on, and feel that they can confide in. From surveys in our title, Athletes Only, 94 percent of our 14-19 year old readers told us that they go to their coaches for suggestions not only on footwear, training, but how to deal with normal life challenges.

It is important, at this stage to not only speak about, but show, by one's actions the difference between right and wrong. Faking times to get a team into a relay, breaking a little rule is a huge revelation to a young athlete. It takes away from the coach's authority and it has the youngster question the coach's moral authority and status as a role model.

It is my feeling, that, if we are ever to get a handle on drug cheating, it starts here. Unless young athletes understand that there are just something one should not due, and also that what drugs do is take the sports out of sporting, then, they will be at risk. Teaching workouts and proper technique is one thing, showing your athletes by your actions and your discussions that sports has its proper place in life and that by cheating in sports, one lessons the sport and themselves-the position of coach as moral authority-is as important as teaching how to hurdle.

This was part of the reason why we started, first American Athletics in 1989, and in 1994, changed the name to American Track & Field. We saw the need for a magazine to champion the needs of the high school and college track coach. Our feeling was that, if we could help, especially the high school coach, to improve their coaching techniques and also improve their understanding of the events,better coaching would lead to higher participation and a better experience for the young athletes.

Coach as instructor, advisor...this role happens in junior college and college. Athlete is pretty comfortable with self, but has lot to learn. This is the big times. At high school, youngster may have been top athlete, but now, part of the group of top athletes. How to work with athlete's pysche? This is where the anecdotal and the scientific meet. It is still important to teach technique, but the callousing, the need for the athlete to understand the stress of competition, and the need for consistent training, and knowledge that there are lots of great athletes out there-so how does one improve above others?

At this level, the athlete learns about consistency, hard work, focus and luck. With great athletes all over the world, a long term approach, a long term focus and confidence in their training, their coaching and themselves. The coach, at all levels, is part cheerleader, part salesman, part confessor. At the college and elite level, this is never more true.

One of the saddest things about our sport in North America is the value of coaching is not understood. At the secondary school levels, many athletic directors still think that they can throw someone who has run a local marathon in as head athletics coach. Physical Education has gone amuck-yet, the country worries about the increase in obesity?

Most U.S. athletes have one coach in high school, one in college and one after college. This hurts the development of the athlete-sometimes. A good high school coach who prepares his or her athlete to reach college has done a tremendous job. The best thing that they can do is to undertrain them, but keep their enthusiasm. A good college coach who prepares his exceptional athlete to understand that reaching the next level will take years of hard work and patience has done a masterful job.

Now, in Europe, many athletes are coached by the same coach for most of their careers-why not so in U.S.? Many, many reasons. The NCAA, that bastion of protecting the college athlete, has determined that mixing elite and college athletes may not be good for the college athletes.

Many college coaches work with their elite athletes after graduation. By that time, the athlete should have the understanding of workouts, competition and the need for focus. But, the difference of the sport at the college level and the international level is night and day. How does an athlete make a living, how does an athlete find a place to train, and what about coaching?

This is where college and elite coaches or advisers clash. An emerging elite athlete needs coaching, needs advice and needs to learn how to make a living at this level. And these are no mean feats. A smart college coach who realizes his or her own strengths and weaknesses might help the athlete find a good agent, someone who realizes that developing the young athlete over the long term is a better investment for both athlete and agent.

Many agents get involved with the coaching decisions. In my mind, this is problematic. Coach-athlete relationships are art, not science. Great athletes and great coaches sometimes do not work well together. Chemistry is important. A savvy agent stays out of that chemistry unless the athlete is not progressing or there is a problem with a coach.

Sport at the elite level is, first and last, entertainment. The competition is truly important, but the entertainment value is what provides the revenues. No one drops $160 million for a USOC sponsorship out of pure love of athletics-they see a business value there as well. This is not bad, it is just realism. For many years, and still today, among many groups, sports as entertainment is looked upon with disdain. Our sport in its purest form, is about running, jumping and throwing. The competition is what entertained the crowds in Ancient Greece, and it is what entertains fans today.

Elite athletes need to be able to communicate well, be comfortable with interviews and understand that promoting an event is smart business. They have to do all of these things while training and racing-and this can be a rude awakening from college or club sports.

At the elite level, great athletes still need coaches, advisors and now, agents. This mix of personalities, this mix of goals, needs to be addressed for the athlete to move on to the next level.

At the end of the day, it still comes down to putting one foot in front of the other, getting over the last hurdle, and staying in the ring at the end of a throw. A savvy athlete knows that, at all levels, his or her most important ally is a good relationship with a coach.

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1 Comment | Leave a comment

As both a high school coach and a personal coach, I agree with much of what you have said. Not only is role of a coach misunderstood by most of the general public, but its value for the high school athlete and its value to his or her education is not even appreciated in most of our schools. I fear that in most schools, it is tolerated as a disturbance that can't be eliminated. The lessons of discipline, dedication and commitment are missed by most high school staff members (including most administrators) and I expect that this is true on the collegiate level as well.


Thanks for your note. Coaching is given very little
respect on the high school level. Sports are seen as babysitting activities instead of character builders and life long lessons.

Larry Eder

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