Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas! What are you giving your athletes?

Got the last of my presents wrapped, and was wondering what is the best gift to give an athlete. As a coach you may not be able to GIVE it, but you can enhance and nurture it.

Self-esteem is one of the most precious things that a person can have.

What got me thinking about this was a 6-year-old boy I know. He is a very special little guy, the son of a girlfriend of ours. He celebrated his 6th birthday not too long ago in a public facility that offers the opportunity for kids to have parties. He and 7 friends were very wound up and the moms left the kids in the hands of an adult who supervised them during the party. She had to scold them a bit because they were pretty rambunctious. When it was all over, the little guy told the lady who supervised them that it was the worst birthday he had ever had and that she ruined it for him and his friends with her strict behavior and scolding. The adult supervisor was amazed at this little guy giving her crap. I laughed SO hard when my wife told me this story.

I immediately replied that I would not have had the stones at 12 years of age to do what he did at 6. I probably wouldn’t have had them at 18 either! I was brought in a world in which many kids were raised with the motto “children are meant to be seen, not heard.” I DID NOT have a terrible childhood, my dad was a huge part of my sporting career, and I am not going to grind an axe about my past. But I will say that my dad seldom asked for my opinion was as a kid, and I learned to keep my ideas and opinions to myself. There were times that he berated me for not standing up for myself with other people. But where should I have learned to value my own opinion and ideas?

Where does self-esteem come from? How does an athlete learn that he or she is a special person, with or without a great sporting performance? When does an athlete trust her/himself?

I try to get athletes as self-reliant as possible. Why? Because I can’t swim, sprint, slide, jump or fight for them. They must perform. Without me.

I encourage them to make decisions in the weight room, on the track, or wherever. Sometimes after a good lift one will ask me “how much should I load up now?” Sometimes I give an opinion, sometimes I tell them that they can answer that question better than me – after all, they just lifted the last load, and I cannot FEEL how heavy the bar was.

I am NOT the all-knowing, almighty, omnipotent coach. I am a guide to their inner self. They must unlock their potential. I want to empower them.

I see myself as a consultant. If they cannot talk to me as an equal, share their opinion, express their view, how can they dominate their opponents?

Do you discuss things with your athletes, or dictate to them? Who is the boss?

This depends on the level of the athlete, and the experience of the athlete. But I do want their self-esteem, self-confidence and self-reliance to grow during their time with me.

I am not a psychologist; I don’t know where or when this mysterious entity known as self-esteem is developed. But I think that when am athlete comes to me I can nurture it, and improve it. I do know that a coach can negatively impact self-esteem. And if I do this as a coach, shame on me.

Not all of my athletes will win Olympic gold. But I can empower every one of them as athletes, and they can use the tools they develop to excel in other areas of later life.

What it comes down to, as a coach, is that it is not about me.

It. Is. Not. About. Me.

This is the gift that I want to never stop giving.

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