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Leading at the game of life coaches help young people on and off the field

Patrick Murky is a competitive swimmer with his sights set on making the 2012 Olympic team. Before being recruited for the University of Texas at Austin’s swim team, he spent a lot of his high school years–usually more than 20 hours every week with his swim coach, Brian King. Practices, swim meets, and travel time meant that Murphy and his coach shared a lot more than just a love of swimming.

Over the years, King has become a part of Murphy’s family. “Brian is a combination of friend and family–in a way I look at him like a big brother,” says Murphy, 18. When Murphy’s father became very sick a few years ago, King stepped in and made sure Murphy got to practice, kept up with his schoolwork, and had someone to talk to. “I view myself as something of a father figure to Pat. He knows he can tell me anything, and I’m there for him,” says King. “We are very close.”

The relationship between Murphy and his coach is not unusual. For many teens, a coach is more than someone who will teach them how to play a sport. Coaches can have many other roles in kids’ lives, according to Sandra Short, professor of physical education and exercise science at the University of North Dakota. “Coaches can be teachers, mentors, parents, role models, friends, motivators, advisers, and even career counselors to the kids they coach,” she says.

Lexi B. isn’t an athlete–she’s an actor. Lexi spends several hours each week rehearsing with her acting coach, Jody Davidson, as part of a youth theater ensemble. The high school junior is learning a lot about the business of acting from Davidson and views Davidson’s role in her life as that of a teacher and mentor. “I’ve had some situations when I have had to go to Jody to get advice about dealing with things I’ve found difficult, like not getting a part I really wanted,” says Lexi.

“Jody is very knowledgeable about this business, and it is good knowing I can go to her with any questions and problems and she will definitely help me out,” she adds. Like Murphy and his coach, Lexi turns to her coach for help. Her coach offers much of the same support as his–there’s just no pool involved.

Providing encouragement is what coaching is all about. Short believes that the most important way coaches can help teens is to be supportive and nurturing. That, she says, helps teens grow and improve. Coaches also help by being trusted people teens can go to if they need assistance.

Coaches should strive to keep things enjoyable, Short says. “Kids play sports for fun. Winning and losing, showing off skills, those come later. Kids want to have fun,” she explains. “For me, being a confidence-builder is really important.” Many coaches know that what they do is crucial.

Rob Grabill of Hanover, N.H., has been coaching soccer for 40 years. He has coached hundreds of kids of all ages. Some of them have become his friends–he even conducted the ceremony at a former player’s wedding last year.

But Grabill believes the most important role he plays as a coach is that of a teacher. “Coaching is all about education, and my relationship with the kids is based on this,” he explains. “Sports help kids learn a great deal more than just how to be better players–the most important thing I want kids to learn is how to be a better person.” Whether they are on the field, on the stage, or in the classroom, coaches can help teens become better athletes, actors, and students. Like Murphy and Lexi, you can make the most of your relationship with a coach. And you don’t even need to play sports!
What do you do when you have a problem with your coach? The best solution is to talk it out. Sure, it’s easier to ask your parents to talk to your coach for you, but soccer coach Rob Grabill says teens need to learn how to talk with adults and solve problems on their own, even if it’s embarrassing or scary. The more you try it, the more comfortable you’ll be, he says.

So what’s the best way to talk with your coach when you have a problem? Grabill offers some ideas.

* Find a time away from practice so you have plenty of time to talk and neither of you will be distracted.

* If you can’t talk with your coach outside of practice, then pick a time either before or after. Otherwise, the conversation may be short and unsatisfying because you are taking time away from your team.

* Never try to talk with your coach about a problem during a game–both of you are focused on other things, and there’s bound to be some tension.

Leading at the Game of Life (p. 13) 1020L

* Coaches help teens develop skills to improve their performance.

* Off the playing field, they also help players build confidence and learn to handle difficult situations.

* Coaches aren’t limited to sports; club and activity advisers can also play the role of a coach and mentor in a teen’s life.

* To get the most out of relationships with coaches, teens should learn how to talk openly with them.

* How does Patrick’s experience with his coach mirror Lexi’s experience with hers?

* What kinds of skills are important for coaches to have? What sort of knowledge do they need?

* In addition to the tips mentioned in the article, what other advice is helpful for talking to coaches?

Students may know what it’s like to be coached. Help them understand the other point of view by giving them a chance to be coaches. Connect with teachers of lower grades in your school community and create a way for your students to coach the younger kids–perhaps learning new games for a field day or training for a student-teacher competition.

Encourage your class to put thought into how they mentor their charges.

* Citizenship Through Sports Alliance www.sportsmanship.org

* Positive Coaching Alliance www.positivecoach.org

What is a good coach? That was the question asked by the Web site TeensHealth (www.kidshealth.org/teen). Teens said the best coaches

* understand their sports and motivate their players. It’s not enough just to be enthusiastic–teens want coaches who know what they are doing and can teach others how to do it.

* are tough but fair. Teens want coaches who won’t play favorites and are honest about their decisions or about what a player can achieve.

* teach teens real-life skills too. Sports are great, but teens also want coaches to give them skills they can use in the real world.

* are committed to teamwork. Teens want coaches who treat their players with the same respect the players give them. They also like coaches who listen to the players’ ideas.

Think About It

Would you like to be a coach in some sport or activity? What personal qualities do you have that could help you be a good coach?

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