Coaching is a rewarding job that allows you to connect with so many people and change lives. The reward comes from knowing that you made an impact, but there’s only one way you can actually have an impact. Stop making yourself the priority!
I see many coaches out there who want to win, and who doesn’t. However if you coach long enough you realize it takes time to develop a county, state, or national champ. And even more importantly it take the right athlete. On a long enough timeline, everyone wins and everyone loses. If your only priority is to win, will you have the energy, passion, and drive to work with that beginner that has a long road ahead to even have a chance of becoming a champ? Winning is great but if that is your selfish reason to coach, it won’t work out long term.
Recently at a track meet a coach was telling me about their prior pole vault coach who had coached 3 state champs. Sounds awesome, right? The last season that coach worked at the school he had commented several times that the kids weren’t athletic, and “he didn’t have time to wait for his next champ.” In two years that school had their next state champ, only that coach was no longer involved. If only that coach made the athletes the priority he would have coached his 4th state champ, but more importantly if the athletes were the priority instead of just state titles, he would be changing lives!
Then there are the coaches who want to prove, “the way we do it is the best!” Let’s just get this idea out there, I have seen many people win, at all levels: high school, college, Olympic, with various styles and technical models. We all have our thoughts on what works best, but people have won big meets doing almost everything. Pick a technical model and I can show you an athlete that has been successful.
Here’s the thing, the goal of the pole vault is to win, and the athlete who jumps the highest wins. What if the way you coach isn’t working for your athlete? Do you just tell that athlete they aren’t cut out for pole vault? Or do you adjust your system and processes to cater to your athlete? It all goes back to your priority. Is your priority to prove that you are right, or is your priority the athlete that you coach? Is your athlete struggling with the plant? Have you tried every planting drill? Or just the same plant drill you have done for years? Your athlete is not the priority if you stand by and watch your athlete fail doing the same thing, over and over again. You have to make adjustments for your athletes’ needs!
Interesting things start to happen when you put your athletes first. You start actually searching for what works for your athlete instead of looking for the athlete that fits your system. If you only want to work with “fast” 6’3” tall males and 5’10” tall females, because you find that those types of people fit into your system, are your athletes the priority? Or is your system the priority? Is winning your priority? What happens when you can’t find an athlete that fits your predetermined standards? Do you just stop coaching? What if one of those athletes are still struggling, do you just toss them to the side? Stop being selfish!
When athletes become the priority you start to do things that help your athletes instead of sticking to the “plan.”
When I first began coaching Ramapo College I was very fortunate to have good athletes jumping. I would coach a male that jumped 17’8 1/2”, a female that jumped 12’ 9 1/2”, and another female that jumped 13’9 3/4”. Back then I would tell athletes it was unacceptable to jump from less than 8 lefts during the championship time of year. And with that crew no problem. What do you do when you get an athlete that’s 5’2” runs the 100meters in 14.5? Do they run from 8 lefts? Absolutely not. If the athlete is the priority you make adjustments. That athlete’s pr coming to college was 8’6”. We jumped from a 5 left approach and she pr’d a foot, 9’6.” If athletes are the priority you become more flexible and do what it takes to help your athletes.
You can coach for whatever reason you like, but if your priority isn’t doing what’s best for your athletes it will show. I was speaking with a coach in my conference the other day and we have seen plenty of coaches come and go in the past decade. The ones that actually stick around put the athletes first, and earn the respect of athletes, their families, and their competitors. If you love this sport and would like to coach long term, make your athletes the priority!