Last weekend a former co-worker (Lisa) and I went out for lunch, we started talking about old times. I asked her about a little girls named Grace. Grace at the time I worked with her was one of the best gymnasts I had even seen. She had this amazing raw talent and she learned new skills faster than anyone in the gym. So when Lisa said that she quit, I was shocked. What happened I asked. Well, she was uncoachable. She was lazy, had an attitude, thought she was too good, and so she quit. I tried to think back to when I knew Grace. She loved gymnastics, she loved competing, getting better, and she loved her team and even her coach Lisa. It didn’t make sense.
This word “uncoachable” seemed interesting. What did it really mean? It’s not in the dictionary. When the word is broken down it means not able to be coached. So I asked Lisa,
Did Grace want to do gymnastics?
Did she want to get better?
Lisa answered yes. So then maybe it was that YOU weren’t able to coach HER?
The situation always has two sides; theirs and yours.
So I called up Grace and wanted to get HER side. Grace told me that this year she was bored, she wasn’t learning anything new and there was nothing exciting about gymnastics anymore. Then she went on to say that her coach started getting mad at her because she was lazy. Grace said;
“I didn’t act any different from I had in the past years. Lisa just started telling me that I should want to be better, I should want to work harder, and that I should even come in extra to show her that I was motivated. I hadn’t missed a practice in two years, why did I need to come in more? I didn’t want to come in more, I wanted to do more stuff in class, but she wouldn’t let me. She made me redo stuff that I learned years ago. I knew I was getting on her nerves and she was starting to hate me. I didn’t want to do things for her because I knew she didn’t like me. When she stopped believing in me…I stopped believing in her.”
Obviously the two stories were both true. But my thought was that Lisa (being the coach) should have found what was going on with Grace.
Was Grace really uncoachable? Is anyone uncoachable? I think NO.
Lisa wanted Grace to come in the gym everyday and give 110%. Wouldn’t that be a nice dream. As a coach I have never had all of my students come in and give 110% every workout. They are humans, not robots. Humans are complex creatures with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. And these are children, they aren’t supposed to be perfect.
Our job as coaches is to coach them. We should figure out what makes them tick and what makes them work. Every kid is different and so every kid needs a different approach. But, every once in a while there will be that Mary Poppins kid, the one that is Practically Perfect in every way. I love those kids, they are easy to coach, they don’t cheat on conditioning, they don’t talk during practice, they do what we say, they are respectful and kind to their teammates, and this perfection extends into their home and school life as well. And to these kids I say I LOVE YOU and THANK YOU. But they are scarce and hard to find. The rest of the kids sometimes have attitudes, get emotional, don’t want to work hard, feel unloved and unchallenged, or sometimes get pissed and push their boundaries. Just like we adults do.
That doesn’t make them uncoachable…it makes them human.
A great coach will realize that if the kid wants to be there and wants to get better, than it is their responsibility to figure out how to coach them. If the way you are coaching isn’t working; change it. It isn’t easy to put extra work into these kids and it takes patients. Coaches have to step outside their comfort zone and realize that if it’s broken, fix it. It will take more work than sometimes you want to put into a kid, but sometimes it’s THESE kids that need it the most. They need their coach to believe in them, want them, and respect them. And as coaches we are all human too. We make mistakes. But to be a great coach we need to put our Ego aside and look inside ourselves. Sometimes the reason we don’t like coaching these kids are because we can’t. We may be too stubborn to admit we need to change our style, we may take their behavior personally instead of understanding they are children, we may not know what to do, and so it is easier to blame to kid and label them uncoachable rather than realize that we failed.
Grace was labeled that she was uncoachable, lazy, that she had an attitude, and she was a troubled kid. In the end she started to believe these labels and lived up to them. That certainly wasn’t the LIFE Lessons that she should have learned. What if her labels were taken away and her coach figured out how to have her use her attitude to make be fierce and unstoppable, what if they gave her standards to live up to because they pushed her to be better than she was, what if they believed in her and didn’t give up on her?
Remember sometimes the kids who give us the most trouble are the ones who need us the most.
Wendy, i agree 100%. Some kids are harder to motivate, some are higher maintenance, but there is a key to all of them. I think one thing many of us as coaches forget is that most of these kids have also been at school for 7 hours before they even get to the gym, and most will have homework to do when they finish. The time they put in is more than most adults manage, and yet they still get there most of the time and give their best most of the time. Truly amazing when you think about it.
I love that article. I think it is one of the most insightful articles that I have read in a while. Simple and straight to the point. I think the hardest part for most coaches is the Ego, or the fear of being considered weak because they have to change. I think every coach should read this and introspect.