The Tone Has Changed in Coaching – We Should Too

By Ashley O’Brien, Head Coach, Buffalo State College  @BuffStateWLax

As we move forward into each subsequent generation, things inevitably shift and change. With each new year we must continually adjust. This ability to adapt and evolve is what makes us good mentors and of course, good coaches. As I sit here waxing philosophical about our profession, I am consistently confronted with the notion that everything we do is based on how we react to change. A new recruiting class, how the roster changes from Fall to Spring, strategy adjustments at game time… the list goes on (Don’t even get me started on the growth required of us to survive the changing college landscape).

Photo courtesy of Buffalo State Athletics.

So, we teach ourselves to focus on what we can control. We plan as much as we can to prepare ourselves to navigate the unknown effectively. I find this to be a main theme in life and in this career. It becomes particularly relevant in terms of our approach to coaching. Gone are the days of brute force, yelling as a means of communication, and dictatorships. The players have changed, and it is time we do too.

Our players, nowadays, need to know “why,” they need to feel valued, and they need support. Our players require compassion. I find that this career forces us to expertly balance between toughness, accountability and compassion, all while appearing as the strongest leader possible. If you want my advice, always err on the side of compassion. I have never regretted showing a player kindness and consideration, but I have regretted not showing them enough of it.

I’m sure we can all conjure up a litany of examples where a player comes into the office crying and in need of guidance. This may be a player that is in need of a lot support or has never needed it. Yet we treat them all the same (even though some players may require an exhausting amount of attention). We give them this fair, kind and patient treatment because we all got into this career for key reasons, and they weren’t all about winning. I recently heard a quote that applies directly: “honesty without compassion is cruelty.” The kids of this generation embody that principle and it is on us to evolve, adapt and optimize.

So, then the question becomes, “how do you show compassion as a coach, but not show weak leadership?” This question becomes even more difficult in an age where our players crave strong leadership and success while they are simultaneously devoid of complete self-esteem. Their early exposure to social media and parent coddling has led to a generation hungry to prove themselves but lacking the internal confidence to supply the necessary perseverance. So, as they change – we change.

It is my experience (and I am still learning all the time) that what they need to rise, is your devotion. They need to know that you are here, and you are willing to weather the storm with them. You are there to hear them and give your trust. You are devoted to them, even when that means pushing them past their limits. If you are devoted to them, they will be behind you. They will fight to build your culture. They will buy in.

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