Sport

Colm Cavanagh: Being a coach isn't easy and good ones should be cherished

Coaching younger players is about giving players the confidence to be their best but also giving constructive criticism where the coach sees potential in a player that just needs brought out. 
Coaching younger players is about giving players the confidence to be their best but also giving constructive criticism where the coach sees potential in a player that just needs brought out.  Coaching younger players is about giving players the confidence to be their best but also giving constructive criticism where the coach sees potential in a player that just needs brought out. 

Training and keeping active is something that has always been very important to me. 

Growing up playing various sports I have experienced a myriad of different training sessions and different coaching methods. 

It is something I have never really thought too much about before. It was just a matter of: go to training, do my best, and go home. I would never have recognised the differing skillsets it takes to be a good coach or to get the most out of those at the session.

We are all different and we all respond differently to instruction and criticism – constructive and otherwise. The reason this is becoming more obvious to me is that when I have my two children at the football field or at the park, they couldn’t be more different in their learning methods if they tried.

My daughter follows example but needs a full explanation of everything broken down so she can learn something new in stages. 

Teaching her to solo a ball is an ongoing process, but I have realised that getting frustrated that it doesn’t come naturally to her isn’t going to help anyone. I have to be patient and trust that she will get there with consistent practice and repetition. 

On the other hand, my son learns a lot more visually. He will watch a demonstration and copy; he isn’t the best at listening to or processing instructions. He will just keep copying and trying what he sees in front of him.

Read more:

  • Colm Cavanagh: I found out the hard way the personal toll of chasing success at all costs
  • Colm Cavanagh: Players are entitled to make most of their time in the limelight

It made me think of the movie The Blind Side, which told the story of former NFL player Michael Oher. There is a scene in the movie where the coach is trying to bring some aggression out in the player by yelling at him. The player just doesn’t respond at all. The player’s mother then walks out onto the field, past the coaches, and speaks to him in a way he understands so knows his role and responsibilities and it all clicks with. She walks back past the coach and simply says: “You should get to know your players.”

This is the level of responsibility I think I have never recognised before – the role of the coach in getting to know their athlete as an individual and enhancing their skills while also figuring out where they fit best into a team. It isn’t just a matter of the coach picking their ‘best’ players or coming up with some training drills. There is so much time investment required to do the role properly.

Coaching younger players holds even more responsibility. It is about giving players the confidence to be their best but also giving constructive criticism where the coach sees potential in a player that just needs brought out. 

I’ve written here before how I think it is ridiculous to have coaches of very young players standing on the sidelines roaring and shouting at these children to push harder and tackle more, making negative comments and being dismissive of a child who has just had a bad day. 

It doesn’t benefit anyone and only serves to anger other coaches and parents alike. And yes, I know that is rich coming from someone known for more than a few outbursts both on and off the field – but not at children.

In my most recent column I wrote about balance, and I think it is a word that should be top of the list for all coaches. 

There is a fine line between showing a child their potential, pushing them a wee bit harder knowing that they have talent, and pressurising a child into training and forcing commitment to something they aren’t enjoying. If the training is taking the fun out of their sport at such a young age, then someone needs to rethink their approach, whether that be the parents or the coaches.

The ‘snowflake generation’ is a term we often hear, where children are overprotected and everyone is a winner in order to protect feelings and not offend or annoy anyone. 

I could write all day about my feelings on this but it is safe to say I am a firm believer sport is competitive and should always remain that way. 

Some players have bad days, some children are naturally gifted at their chosen sport or hobby and some children have to work harder than others to even participate, never mind compete. It is what it is. 

I won’t be able to correct any of my failings through my children so any encouragement or criticisms I give them have to be for their benefit. They could have the best coaches in the world, but just not turn up on the day. That will never give me the right to have a go at a coach because my child’s team didn’t win or because they were dropped for a match. 

My daughter does Irish dancing. I have absolutely zero knowledge of the skills and commitment involved in her sport but I know I can’t get annoyed with her teacher just because she isn’t on a podium each week. Equally, I don’t want her coming home with a medal for taking part if she hasn’t practised and tried her best to earn it.

Coaching is a tough role. Poor coaching is unforgivable and excellent coaches are very hard to come by. Much like their players, if they are trying their best then they should be commended for stepping up to the responsibility.