Fitnesswise: Adapting coaching for modern athletes

In this age of technology and shifting athlete dynamics, emphasising genuine connections, adaptive communication, and a values-driven approach are required to nurture the evolving breed of athletes.

Published : Oct 16, 2023 08:58 IST - 5 MINS READ

A symbiotic connection: Coaching is all about building quality relationships with the athletes and the support staff.
A symbiotic connection: Coaching is all about building quality relationships with the athletes and the support staff. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

A symbiotic connection: Coaching is all about building quality relationships with the athletes and the support staff. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

It is interesting to observe that athletes nowadays are different from when I was their age. The current level of athletes are faster, stronger, quicker and mentally tuned differently. There are many reasons for it — from social and psychological to monetary and many more.

Cutting-edge technology plays a very important and defining role in the lifestyle of athletes. Whether it would get better or worse, only time will tell. Today we walk through some pointers that will help us understand the present generation of athletes and look at tips to train them to get the best out of them.

Any sport has always been and will always be an interpersonal activity that requires uninterrupted human connection and communication.

Coaching is all about building quality relationships with the athletes and the support staff. Currently, in the social media domain, where everyone is a winner and a specialist, the frame of mind has changed. Athletes are not the same as they were 20 years ago.

We can’t stop the waves but we can all learn to surf and sail!

Here are few basic tips in understanding today’s players:

1. True connection with players is one of the key factors. Finding out what ticks for them and motivates them is their catalyst in front of peers and staff behind closed doors.

2. It is important for players to embrace social media and technology in a prudent manner. The key is to not go berserk with it, but to use it intelligently.

3. Speaking their language does not mean using abusive language or profanity, but communicating using tools and platforms like X or Instagram. Again, it is important to use it for the benefit of the players than currying favours through that for one’s own branding.

4. Consistency breeds excellence, excellence breeds trust, trust breeds loyalty and loyalty builds a strong programme. One needs to be consistent with everything they do, otherwise players won’t respect them.

5. Admit it. Fix it. Don’t repeat it! — this is a three-step policy when dealing with mistakes by players. The first time is a mistake. The second time, it is a decision. But, the third time, it is a blunder. No one is perfect and many try to act and fail miserably. Implementing this policy can strengthen trust and openness.

6. Articulating your core values and principles and each player’s role play should be non-negotiable as they make up the programme’s philosophy, work ethics and culture.

7. Players want to know the why, what, when, how and where behind everything. It’s the duty to explain why you do what you do; why you believe what you believe, and what and why you expect from them. The higher the perceived relevance, the higher the chance of them buying into the philosophy. At the end of the day, a coach’s number one job is to get a buy-in from every member of the programme.

8. Social media offers access to an abundance of friends and fans, making sure your players know you truly care about them (on and off the field).

9. Don’t try to be a buddy with your players and expect them to support you always. If you are too close to them personally you can’t hold them accountable and help them progress. You should be a role model, a teacher and a mentor rather than a buddy.

10. All players learn differently and do not have the same ability to grasp things, points and perspectives. Make sure you can effectively communicate to each player using various methods.

11. Players want to show their individuality by wearing fancy shoes, sporting different haircuts and attire, and indulging in various antics and routines during pre-game warm-ups. Don’t fight it. Maintain some leniency in your programme rules. Today’s idols and role models are a lot different from those in the earlier days, and the future would be different too.

12. It is important to create a climate and culture that values people over productivity. Your players must know that you care about them but as a human being first and then a player — be it an icon or an amateur. Also, ask non-performing players if they want to know how good a professional you think they are.

13. The point to ponder is that you either coach or you are allowing things to happen by taking them for granted. You either accept it or correct it.

14. Using the right language to create an impact and strengthen the trust would play a major role in the development of a player’s skill or fitness — be it physical or mental. For example: by replacing ‘but’ with ‘now’ when instructing a player — “I like your lunge position, now try to get your knee behind your toe.” This minor change can make a huge impact.

15. Science shows that most people have a pretty firm definition of what is right and wrong by the age of 13. Hold them accountable. Ignorance is not an excuse. However, learn to choose your battles. Kids will be kids. If a player posts something stupid on social media, don’t condemn them for life. Use it to teach a life lesson. Hold them accountable. Most of the professional players actually want to be held accountable. It shows them that you care and are invested in their success and growth.

16. Today most of the players today have grown up in the ‘trophy generation’. Players need to learn another word — EARN. Create a robust system where players have to earn their trophy than just being a social media emperor.

17. Players today want to play immediately at the highest level and become an iconic symbol. They need to understand the concept of ‘right of passage and progression’. By channelling this desire by keeping them focused on the process and the long term goals, they would be reaching their summit.

18. One of the biggest changes and challenges with players in the past and present is with their parents. Parents are much more involved and much more vocal (especially on social media). They can be a tremendous support system or they can be a real thorn.

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