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Fueling the Fire of Athletes



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Over the past few months, I have been working with both a local boys’ high-school basketball team and student-athletes from a Division Three university. All I can say is how lucky these athletes are; they have coaches who are tough, consistent, and fair. The love and the passion these coaches have for the game bleeds through into every practice. It is a beautiful sight to behold—coaches who bring their passion for the game and share it with their athletes.

When athletes have a sense that the coach cares, it makes all the difference in their mindset. Of course, athletes may get upset when they make a mistake or the coach calls them out on something, but it stings less when an athlete knows it’s not a personal attack or something derogatory.

Igniting Inspiration

I was inspired to write this specific post after watching an early morning men’s collegiate basketball practice. It was a breath of fresh air watching this team because I could feel the love and passion from this coach. I often share in my blog posts that what I do is not only watch the athletes and their behaviors but also observe the coaches to see how the athletes react and respond to the manner in which they are coached. A flame cannot stay lit when it is not fed oxygen. This coach fed the fire; he was the oxygen. He set the stage and used positive measures to get what he wanted from the team. This is what we need to see more of from coaches.

Coaches have different coaching styles. That is what makes them unique and an asset to the game. I wish I could say that all coaches seem to have love and passion when working with athletes. There are a few outliers that hurt the game for athletes. This does not just pertain to the athletes who sit on the bench. I have seen coaches abuse their power and emotionally wear down their “good” players to the point that they do not know if they are coming or going.

There will always be athletes who like coaches in their faces and then there are others that need to be approached behind the scenes. This is a task that coaches should not take lightly; every coach should get to know their athletes personally, so they understand what fuels their fire. Coaching is not one size fits all. The days of cookie-cutter coaching are gone!

Most athletes excel with this type of coaching. All athletes need this type of fuel to feed the fire. Consistency and positivity are key to keeping an athlete’s mindset strong and resilient. Once athletes figure out that they can play freely, all the pieces begin to come together. This is something that I have also seen with my boys’ high-school basketball team. Coaching allowing their players to play freely enables them to correct them without an adverse reaction from the player.

Coaches today are not coaching the same types of kids that existed years ago. Today, athletes have different social pressures and family dynamics, and, overall, are growing up in a world of constantly evolving technology. There are so many more outside pressures, and there is the need for everything to happen now. It is utterly important to address athletes with high expectations and let them know that they still have to work for what they get. Coaches still need to be hard, fair, and consistent as I mentioned earlier; however, it is imperative to recognize the needs of the athletes as individuals and how to build team chemistry with each different personality.

When to Protect the Flame

Most importantly, athletes need to know when to cover their flame so that it does not burn out. Not all coaches have good energy or good coaching styles. Quite often, I work with many athletes who come to me because they have lost the love of the game due to a coach or coaches. It saddens me to think that coaches who decide to work with young players can destroy confidence. Some coaches might just say that the athlete is weak and pampered; someone like me would say that this coach needs to find another calling. I have coached for more than 35 years; there have been times when I have been hard on my players and yelled at them, but I have always made them aware of the fact that I cared for and loved them. With mental health finally on the radar, it is essential that coaches recognize the need to be more than a coach but to be human as well.

To this day, I have a dual role, I still coach and also work with athletes as a sports psychology coach, and I make it a point to go above and beyond for them and their families.

To all of the coaches out there, new and old, remember, you are shaping lives. You are someone these players look up to for guidance and direction—you are their coach. Remember that the power of one word can change a life forever in a negative way or a positive way. Be careful with your use of power; it can change the trajectory of an athlete’s future.

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