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Getting the Players Involved

The traditional style of coaching places the head coach squarely in charge of all aspects of the team. John Pinkman, a blogger for Momsteam, offers an alternative. He suggests that players should have a say in a coach’s practice plans.

“I can tell you with the confidence of 25 years of teaching players, that when a player comes to me and asks me, ‘Can we work on this today, coach?’ he is more attentive, motivated, and engaged,” writes Pinkman. “The higher the level of engagement, the higher the information retention level will be as well.”

It is important for players to approach a practice with one or two specific, personal goals, Pinkman says. That takes some advance planning. Parents can help manage that process at home by suggesting their children put aside some time to think about how they want to improve after each game.

In addition, Pinkman feels coaches should be open to their athletes’ suggestions. “Players must have the right and the responsibility to question, disagree and suggest,” he writes. “A good teacher knows how to handle disagreement. It usually manifests itself in a misunderstanding … A player not given intellectual respect or freedom will not engage, will not risk public criticism, and will become a robot.”

The “shut up and do it my way” approach has generated poor outcomes over time, on the field and off. Athletes are deprived the full circle of life-affirming experiences sport provides.

“I am well aware that these conversations need to be managed from a leadership perspective,” Pinkman writes. “An absolute priority is for the team coach … to create a secure educational environment to allow the player to offer input.”

Pinkman warns that it can be tough for veteran coaches to give up so much control. However, it is his experience that when a coach is invested in the player’s intellect and ideas, it ends up being easier to maintain control in the long run.

For coaches tentative with this approach, Pinkman suggest telling the players the entire practice plan for that session. If it’s written down, hand it out. The plan should include a time when players decide what is best for the team or themselves, based on the outcome of the last opponent they faced. Allow the shyer players to write down the skills they want to improve on.

Overall, the key is to talk openly with your athletes. “Create a secure educational environment,” Pinkman says. “Solicit their opinion about what they need to know and how they feel they can learn. Then make it happen. You'll be surprised at how quickly they become engaged!”

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