Jun 29

It’s All About The Attitude!

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Everything we do in sports is related to our philosophy or attitude. In the end, we as coaches are responsible for the overall well-being of sports participants (whatever their age), for the successful partaking, participants’ performance outcomes and their life-time experiences during their involvement in sport. One has to deal with a wide range of subject matter when establishing a philosophy. Your reflective resolutions therefore become the directives to your sports program. They act as the ‘lifeline’ for program success or cause the downfall of the program (“you will swim or sink” as the saying goes). Many programs collapse quickly without an existing or appropriate philosophy.

Undergoing a philosophical reflection frequently causes some ‘discomfort’ for novice coaches and even those who have been coaching for some time. It is usually due to the fact that one is “forced” to evaluate or re-evaluate the reasons for one’s involvement in coaching, one’s goals and ambitions, one’s integrity. In other words, ”Look in the mirror and tell yourself” what do I see?” Most people find it unsettling when they have to be introspective, or having to contemplate their inner motives. “Why is this even necessary? …After all, it’s just sports! I just want to get (got) involved because I love kids! I just want to coach! Why do I have to deal with this philosophical nonsense? I am not an academic!” All these are typical reactions!


The Need for the Coaching Philosophy?

Someone once asked the English Sir Edmund Hillary “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” His answer was “because it’s there.” We could argue the same for sport and propose that sport and life are full of questions. However, more importantly, building a philosophy for a sports program, implementing such and carrying the program toward success involves not only the coach and the coaching staff of an organization. Foremost and in the end there are tremendous effects on the sports participants. It makes no difference whether these are young children or youth athletes. The impact of the coach’s philosophy and the respective sport program is far reaching. It determines whether any of them carry away a positive or negative attitude toward sports involvement in general. It influences whether their experiences form a strong or weak self-image. These experiences also determine whether or not they will encourage their children to partake some day.

There are several questions that coaches need to consider when building a philosophy:

1. What is the nature of the program philosophy? What are the program objectives? What is the long-term aim of the program? What is the program and the coach trying to achieve as the final outcome? Is the program directed only at sports skills or does the scope go beyond?

2. What is the nature of the Coach? Who is he/she? What personal and leadership qualities does the coach possess? What can he/she contribute to leading and developing young athletes? What personal improvements does the coach need?

3. Who are the Ahletes?

  • Ethnic/racial and social background
  • Age
  • Skill level
  • Male/female

4. What Knowledge does the Coach have or need – as a Person/as the Coach?

What Knowledge do the Athletes have or need – for life/for athletic performance?

5. What Value systems are or need to be in place – for society in general and for sports participants specifically?

(Schloder & McGuire, 1998)


This questioning process becomes an ongoing undertaking because program features can change, the direction of a program may change and/or the coach’s philosophy may change over time. Answering these questions determines the direction or provides the “road map for the journey through sports.” Certainly one can ‘meander’ around trying to reach the final destination but at a great expense of everyone involved.

I am going to share my personal experience with you here because it makes the discussion more relevant. I was a very successful elite athlete in Germany under the direction of a very autocratic coach. The sport system supported that approach. I never liked the philosophy but had no other option. “It was the way it was – accept it or get out.” I chose coaching as a profession because I wanted to do it differently in America. I coached very successfully at a NCAA Division 1 University – but I coached in the only style I was familiar with, the autocratic one. This is a common syndrome of former athletes entering the coaching ranks. I realized the ‘trap’ but did not know what to do about it. I happened to walk through the women’s locker room one-day and overheard team members referring to me as ‘ruthless Ruth’ (my nickname not known to me).

I was shocked, never mind it really ‘bruised my ego.’ I decided to change my philosophy and my coaching style the following season after long deliberations and reading lots of sport psychology. In fact, I took an academic minor in that field in my educational pursuit because I realized that I needed to understand the athletes and myself better and most of all I ‘needed to grow’ in my profession. My friends and many a news reporters were surprised. The ‘German hard head’ (those were milder words) was seeking change and the press even labeled me as “going soft.”

So, what does this have to do with you? First of all, you need to decide on the real reasons for your coaching or continued involvement. This is crucial because the foundation in youth sports is the development of youth (Schloder & McGuire, 1998). …“Because you love kids”… is not a good enough explanation. Teaching children and youth nowadays is a very demanding and complex engagement. Love is an emotion and can easily turn into dislike, disgust or even hate when the “team does not live up to its ability or you have to deal with problems.” Any program and personal coaching philosophy has to be based on more solid reasons.

So, is it power you are seeking (wrong motive)? Do you have high ambitions to reaffirm yourself through coaching? You may get disappointed. Is it because you want to coach your own child or make sure he/she gets to play in the line-up? It’s a potential trap! Is it challenge? Is it developing youth to their optimum? Is it a career potential (you may volunteer and then pursue it as a profession)? You need an honest answer!


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