I've been coaching endurance athletes since 2001. It's a role I've not taken for granted and take quite seriously. And for good reason: coaches influence the kind of experience athletes have with sport. They have an opportunity to make a lasting impression - good or bad.
I've never called myself Coach Julie. I think deep down I've felt like those are some big girl shoes to fill! But after this summer, I'm embracing this title. Here's what happened:
To date all of my clients have been adults. That is, until this summer. A local Parks and Rec District hired me to coach mountain biking to 10 to15 year olds. Given I know mountain biking and I know kids (I have a 14-year old daughter), I thought this coaching gig would be a breeze. It hasn't quite been the breeze I was hoping for, however it's been a ton of fun and I've learnt so much about what it truly means to be a coach. And I'm ready to step into those big girl's shoes.
My classes are limited to 10 kids. This invariably means that I have 10 very unique persons with their own:
- learning styles,
- physical abilities,
- mental strengths,
- drive and motivation,
- ability to focus,
- what engages them and fills their cup,
- self-confidence and self-esteem, etc.
It's challenging to create an environment where all these unique kids can all feel important, feel heard, can progress and thrive.
What's helping me? I love learning and being a student of 'stuff'. This has been a great opportunity for me to dive into the world of coaching, confidence, self-esteem, etc. The following resources have been invaluable: Positive Coaching Alliance, The Confidence Code, Wolfpack, Changing the Game Project, and The Big Life Journal.
POSITIVE COACHING ALLIANCE
I'm a big fan of Positive Coaching Alliance. I've been using their material for years. They have resources for not only coaches, but also parents, athletes, officials, and admin staff. This summer I used their ELM Tree concept with the kids. In ELM, the E is for Effort, the L is for Learning and the M is for Mistakes are OK. This is super easy to remember, to teach and for kids to grasp.
E is for Effort. It’s more important that the kids try their best. It's not about who is the fastest or who has the nicest bike. I love it when kids get a little confidence and push themselves outside of their comfort zone on the bike. You can see they are scared, and as a coach, if I help them see that I have confidence in them, they start to have confidence in themselves. It's a beautiful thing to see. I'm trying to figure out what each kid needs: how much to push and praise.
L is for Learning. Focus on learning and improving. Progression rather than perfection. If we continue to try and learn, we will get better. Getting better is more important than whether or not we are better than someone else. And for this reason I emphasizing competing with yourself, rather than with others.
M is for Mistakes. Mistakes are OK because they are part of learning. Trying things that are new and challenging inevitably leads to making mistakes, especially in mountain biking. You can’t learn and progress without making these mistakes. It's so important to create an atmosphere where kids feel OK to take a risk to try new things, mess up, and move forwards.
Another resource that I use from Positive Coaching Alliance is respecting ROOTS. This acronym stands for respecting: Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self. I change this to ROCS for mountain biking: Rules, Others, Coaches, and Self.
R is for Rules. This year we had COVID rules to add to our normal set of Rules for safe riding in a group. Rules are a way to keep it fair, everyone safe and it is important for the kids to be taught to respect the role rules play in their class / sport.
O is for Others. Emphasizing that it is important to support each other and respect our different comfort zones. We cheer and champion everyone, wherever they are at on the learning curve.
C is for Coaches. You can show respect to your coaches by listening, trying your best and following the rules.
S is for Self. Respect yourself in order to uphold an honorable approach to sports. Set high standards and live up to them. Don't get mad at yourself when things don't go your way. Be gentle. Focus on progressing and making small improvements.
CONFIDENCE CODE FOR GIRLS
Confidence Code for Girls by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay is a wonderful reference book. It talks about taking risks, messing up and focusing on what is in your control. At the end of each chapter there are practical things kids can work on. Super simple and relevant for girls and boys. Their website has a great quiz to help kids understand what their confidence style is.
Wolfpack (Young Readers Edition) by Abby Wambach. Abby was one of the best female soccer players to have played the game. She is a soccer icon and dominated the world scene right up to her retirement in 2015. Abby's real life stories help kids learn from her mistakes and experiences. She helps kids to find their voice and their tribe. It's good stuff.
CHANGING THE GAME PROJECT
The mission of the Changing the Game Project is to return youth sports to our children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ They provide parents and coaches with the information and resources they need to make sports a healthy, positive, and rewarding experience for their children. This website offers blog postings, books, videos, podcasts, and courses.
BIG LIFE JOURNAL And finally the Big Life Journal: Teen Edition by Alexandra and Scott Eidens. This little gem helps kids with embracing a positive mindset, resiliency, goal setting and self-talk. As the title suggests it's in a journal format.
All these resources are helping me develop a framework to guide how I coach. This framework is a work in progress. Today it looks like this:
- Give kids a good experience.
- Connect with all the kids. Know their name and what their goals are.
- More positives than negatives.
- Create a safe environment. Physically safe and emotionally safe. Set them up for success.
- Think before you speak: choose words wisely. They can have a lasting impact.
- Focus on life transferable skills.
- Focus on work ethic, progression, taking risks, and stepping outside of your comfort zone.
- Treat everyone equal. Always.
Working with kids has definitely taken me outside my comfort zone. This is a good thing! I'm growing. I'm learning. And I'm very thankful for that. Hopefully I'm progressing and doing a little bit better each time I interact with the kids. What a fun and exciting privilege to interact with them at such an important time in their lives. If you work with kids (or know someone who does), I hope you find the resources above useful. Coaching is so much more than knowing the sport.