8 core principles in developing a coaching philosophy

This is an excerpt from Coaching Track & Field by Mark Guthrie.

The coaching philosophy you choose is central to how you define your career and how your team functions in practices and competitive situations. The coaching philosophy is the foundation of your program; it not only guides you and your staff, but it also sets the stage for the athletes on your team. It leads them to assume responsibility for their own actions and decisions, and it encourages them to meet the expectations that affect them as individual athletes and as an entire team.

As a young coach, you will create a dynamic philosophy that will continue to evolve throughout your career until such time as you are comfortable and confident with the way you make decisions for your team. Your coaching philosophy inevitably is shaped by the experiences you gain working with different athletes in various situations. Ultimately, your philosophy comprises the values you hold in highest regard and the ones you are comfortable sharing with and teaching to the athletes that make up your team. One such value may be that the actions of one individual can affect the entire team. For example, if one relay member misses one or more practices, the athlete’s absence can not only negatively affect the remaining three athletes in practice, but it may also affect the entire team. If the absence causes the relay to drop the baton during an exchange, the team may therefore lose points in a meet.

Most young people function from an individual perspective as opposed to a group perspective; this provides a teaching opportunity for the coach. The values that coaches teach may be few or numerous, but they almost always include such concepts as being on time, working as a group, accepting responsibility, and being good citizens. In short, your philosophy is composed of the same values that govern your own life; therefore, they are easy to teach and easy to use on a daily basis. If you try to become someone that you are not or if you adopt someone else’s values, you will have a difficult time representing foreign values in your own actions.

Perhaps the most significant difference in the philosophy of a track and field coach versus that of a coach in a more traditional team sport is that in track and field, an athlete can have measurable, quantitative success individually. These individual successes have to be viewed in terms of how they affect the total team performance. For example, you can easily have three or four athletes that are outstanding in one or two events but still have a losing team result. As a track and field coach, your ability to orchestrate, or blend, the egos and accomplishments of individual athletes will be an important ingredient of your philosophy. Coaches of traditional team sports, on the other hand, usually base their coaching philosophies on the performance of the athletes functioning as a unit. For example, to be successful, all 11 players in football must execute their portion of the play correctly. If one of the 11 athletes fails in his performance, it could directly affect the success of the whole team.

There are some consistent principles that go into creating your own coaching philosophy, whether you are coaching track and field or another sport:

  • Be yourself.
  • Define your coaching objectives.
  • Establish rules.
  • Build and nurture relationships with athletes.
  • Be organized.
  • Involve your assistant coaches.
  • Help athletes manage their stress.
  • Focus on the big picture.

This is an excerpts from Coaching Track & Field Successfully.

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