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Compassionate Coaching

Wilbur Braithwaite is a former basketball and tennis coach at Manti High School in Utah, and an NFHS (National Foundation of State High School) Award of Merit winner.  In an article on the NFHS website, he recalls a moment when high school, Braithwaite offers very insightful advice on how “Caring” is a very underrated characteristic of outstanding high school coaches.

 “Good coaching involves good teaching. Good teaching is based upon caring,” wrote Braithwaite. “Caring is all about compassion. Compassion is being sympathetic to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of others. The compassionate are especially concerned with those individuals, who for whatever reasons, are in a state of distress. Because of the very nature of competitive sports, athletes in the field of fire are often wounded in the fray. The wounds may be physical or emotional. Good coaches find ways to ease the burden of players.”

In the article, Braithwaite provides examples of where a display of “Compassionate Coaching” can make all the difference in teaching lifelong lessons to athletes.

•  Handling Injuries:  “Wounded players do not look for exaggerated sympathy from the coach,” Braithwaite writes.  “They know the risks of competing.  However, they do appreciate and recognize genuine empathy…with empathy being ‘the capacity to participate in another's feelings.’”

•  Determining When an Athlete Returns to Competition: Braithwaite offers an honest perspective on this topic.  He writes, “In retrospect, I regret not having played backups more.  A back-up at full strength is likely to out-perform a less-than-whole starter.  By so substituting, team depth and experience increases, morale often benefits and likely the chance of winning is enhanced.”

•  Athletic Slumps: “Without confidence, Braithwaite writes, “losing becomes a high probability for both teams and individuals.  Confidence is a complex phenomenon…Being able to execute fundamentals quickly, consistently, accurately and artfully, under game pressure, breeds confidence…Yet, sooner or later every player must work his or her way out of a slump.  This is a time for coaches, as the saying goes, "to step up" and try to make a difference.  The key to the return to form might turn upon correcting a slight flaw that has crept into skill technique.”

Braithwaite reminds coaches how providing encouragement to their athletes can make the difference in achieving success on the field.  He references a quote cited in an old version of the Utah High School Activities Association Handbook (1997-98): "The mind is capable of powerful influence.  It can talk us in or out of defeat; it can talk us in or out of victory.”

•  Substitutions: Braithwaite feels that that a difference-maker for a successful coach is how he or she effectively mentors the non-starters on the team. Of course there are backups on every team. “One cardinal truth is this: Any Competitive Player Wants to Play,” Braithwaite writes.  “Realistically, a coach must play his most skilled players to have a chance to win.  But a coach who is sensitive to all of his or her players always looks for creative opportunities to fulfill the natural and healthy desire of all squad members to compete.”

•  Discipline: Braithwaite believes that discipline goes hand-in-hand with compassion—a coach must discipline to be compassionate. He says, “Coaches are in the business of teaching value-systems – systems based upon consideration, respect and responsibility for others.  For the sake of the individual player, as well as the team, it would be ultimately unkind for us to ignore behavior that violates the bounds of decency, team rules and common sense.”

•  Keeping Perspective: “On any age level, and especially during the emotion-filled teenage years, competitors must be taught how to cope with defeat and disappointment – conditions that can crowd out self-worth with self-doubt,” Braithwaite writes. “Most sports are won, not so much with spectacular plays, but because of opponent's mistakes.   Wise coaches help individuals overcome mistakes with proactive teaching principles. One of the greatest contributions a coach can make, and one with lifetime implications, is how to win and lose gracefully, without diminishing competitive spirit and the will to win.

In his article, Braithwaite reminds coaches about the special opportunity they have—and perhaps why they chose this profession: “Every coach has the marvelous opportunity each day to enter the wonderful world of becoming a more caring, compassionate teacher in his or her own special way,” he writes.

Click here to read the full article.

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