By Margie Sugarman
My trainer, although great, can be quite harsh. Recently we were at a horse show where she loudly and publicly scolded another rider for something she did while showing. What my friend did was in no way dangerous; it was just a minor bad habit that she’s been having a hard time breaking. Now I’m consumed with concern that my trainer will publicly humiliate me over something minor as well. I’m concerned about her attitude toward correcting her riders — can this type of coaching be beneficial?
Effective coaching runs deeper than winning a ribbon. Coaching includes reaching athletes on an individual level. Coaches should hold a place of not only authority but also of respect. Ideally, the student should be able to look at their coach as a role model as well as a mentor. The challenge of coaching is being able to balance rationale and logic in teaching the student along with emotional awareness. Fostering a strong coach/athlete relationship is important for performance as well as for the athlete’s growth as a moral, ethical and positive person.
Observing the schooling areas at shows allows one to learn quite a bit about personal interactions, the building of skills, and the development of positive moral and ethical behaviors. Research of human dynamics has shown that through strong relationships and a physical, mental and emotional approach to coaching, young athletes will develop as people and perform better. An effective coach possesses skills that revolve around honesty and positivity. There is empathy and understanding, when needed, to make a point and help the athlete develop. Such coaches accept, support and respect their students, where criticisms are made in ways that support growth and avoid humiliation. Coaching is a difficult job because, among other traits and skills, it entails always being “on” as a role model and good example.
Listen to the soft voices around the rings of the riders who are trying to hold back tears and hide their embarrassment because they’ve just publicly been embarrassed and yelled at. Are their coaches being good role models and effective teachers, fostering a strong relationship based on mutual respect with their riders?
The coach/athlete relationship is crucial because of its effect on the athlete. Young athletes are particularly susceptible to the effects of their surroundings, the ideas of others and the presentation of critical comments. When the goal of training is purely winning, it comes with a strong possibility of introducing ethical, psychological and interpersonal dilemmas.
Success without the development of effective personal relationships might produce an athlete with ability, but they will lack in the area of personal growth.
Most coaches appreciate that their job is more than just skill development — it truly is a huge factor in setting up the young athlete for success in life. Remoteness, pessimism, inappropriate communication and lack of true interest are key characteristics to avoid when choosing a coach. Irritability leads to ineffective communication and, ultimately, to an ineffective relationship. These characteristics do not foster a healthy foundation for positive relationships; instead, they often exploit the malleable minds of young athletes in the pursuit of winning ribbons.
The real victories are found in positive personal connections, which generate trust, enhanced communication and, ultimately, a winning attitude.
Coach Herb Brooks once said, “Success is won by those who believe in winning and then prepare for that moment. However, the elements that constitute that preparation determine winning as a person, not just an athlete.”