Over the past 12 years, I have spent a large majority of my time coaching athletics. I played sports my entire life and thought I was ready to help others reach their potential. But when I went to my very first football practice as a coach, I realized something very quick: I didn't know jack about coaching! Two areas really stood out. The first, I thought I knew a lot more about the sport than I actually did. Watching 8-10 games per week led me to believe I was some kind of expert. I was wrong...dead wrong. Luckily I had some veteran coaches help me get up to speed. The second thing that I learned was that working with kids and motivating them to do what you want them to do is a task much easier said than done.
Often times in coaching, we are a product of our environment. We know what we know through our experiences as a player or through previous coaches or mentors. In the world of coaching, this influence from others is often referred to as a "Coaching Tree". Think about what a family tree would look like. You have a grandfather, followed by a father, followed by you, followed by your son and so on. Some of the principles your grandfather taught and prioritized would trickle down to the later generations. The same thing happens in coaching. We are strongly influenced by those who came before us and those who showed us the way.
When I first got into the coaching game, I felt more like a parrot than a coach. I was repeating phrases and techniques that I learned from others. I was reading books written by great coaches and stealing their philosophy. I wasn't in a position to create a coaching style on my own yet nor was I comfortable with my abilities to lead. This comfort comes with experience and at that time I didn't have it. I decided I needed to study the game more and enhance my skill set. Every year I wanted to become a better coach. The moment that I didn't have the time or drive to get better was the day I stopped coaching.
As I looked around, I realized not everyone you work with or coach against had that approach. These individuals felt they had experience on their side and because they were doing it long enough, they were good to go. But let me point one thing out, experience does not equal mastery. Coaching for 20-plus years does not give you any advantage over the first or second year coach if you do not actively try to advance your skill set. If you don't work on getting better with each year, you are essentially repeating year one twenty times over. When you look at this individuals development, you are not a 20 year vet. You are still stuck in year one because you never took the initiative to advance.
With all that being said, if you are a young coach just getting into the game, there are a few ways you can speed up your development. Go to conferences, get a new certification, stay current, learn new motivational techniques, find a mentor, listen to others with different view points and keep striving to get better. And remember, the individuals you coach and work with become an extension of who you are. Build a coaching tree with strong roots and watch it prosper for years on end!