Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Maintaining Clear Boundaries with Athletes

As a coach of T2T athletes, I rely heavily on relationship building to help engage and support athletes.  Kids this age are monsters of relationship - keyed into peers heavily and significantly connected to social environments. 

For many years I worked as a camp director at a summer camp for kids - in that setting, fun was the primary focus - and the relationship building skills of my staff was something that we really worked on - we wanted kids to feel safe, to grow and learn, and to have fun.  To do all of these things, we needed to establish clear boundaries and expectations about things like roles, routines, and social expectations.  In coaching the need for clear expectations is also helpful.

Think about engaging T2T athletes in a conversation about your expectations of them, and their expectations of you.  Then going on to talk about creating some social norms by engaging kids in a conversation about what should be normal.  Then further, going on to thnking about what should happen if norms and expectations are not met.  In our coach training, as part of the new NCCP coaching programs, we are asked as coaches to adhere to a set of ethical conduct guidelines.  This is nice starting place.  But to really create a culture where kids feel safe and can flourish, there is a need to do a bit more than that. 

This year, in my role as lead coach with our club's Train to Train 1 and 2 groups, I plan to do this - to make time for a conversation early in the fall training season to talk about what we want our team to be, how we can help each other be our best - to talk about what kids can expect from me and our team of coaches, and to hear what kids expect of me, and for them to have an opportunity to share what they expect of themselves and what I can expect from them.

These things are all pretty simple things to do - but in a world where we have lots of demands on our time and only so much time to use on physical and technical training it really can be a challenge to find the right time and the right amount of time.  For me, a cold, rainy practice is a perfect time for this 10-15 minutes discussion, maybe while we are stretching.

CCC recently included a great article which got me thinking about boundaries and how I go about setting appropriate boundaries.  This article got me thinking that I should address these things as part of our parent/athlete meeting early in the season.

For me, the balance is around maintaining an approprate coach-athlete relationship with maintaining an environment that is full of fun, socially engaging for kids, where the coach-athlete relationship is a key positive factor in giving kids another reason to come to practice and to do the at home workouts that are part of their training program.  The reality is that kids need to be self motivated - but the fact is that very few kids are highly self driven at 12 or 13 years of age - most participate because its fun and because they have a positive, social peer group doing something they enjoy.  It is important to remember that as coaches, we have a huge impact on the culture that gets created in the teams that we lead. What the culture looks like will be different with every coach and group of kids.  I have come to realize that for me as a coach, its important to be freindly, fun, approachable, and supportive/caring, where athletes know I have high expectations of their capabilities and where athletes are challenged to be their best.