Empowerment: Pillar of Character for Athletes and Coaches
To be empowered is to have the authority and knowledge to make decisions for the betterment of oneself and others. In sports, empowered athletes lead to successful teams. However, coaches must lead their athletes toward these empowered actions. The coach's role includes enabling, educating, engaging, and encouraging.
Enable and enabling
Enabled athletes do not have to ask permission to make choices that make themselves and their teammates better. Nor do they have to ask questions they already know the answers to. Some examples include taking the time to put away the equipment at the end of the rotation without being asked or simply telling the coach they are going to use the restroom instead asking permission to do so. Additional examples include getting started on a workout when the coach arrives a couple of minutes late, perhaps due to a meeting, or stepping out of a workout to help a teammate (maybe a younger athlete) that has fallen down. So how do we get our athletes to start down workouts, clean up after themselves, and take care of others?
The answer is simple: coaching. As coaches we have to be able to relinquish some control while maintaining the high standards we expect from athletes. When we relinquish control we allow our athletes the authority they need to make decisions for themselves. By educating our athletes on the correct timing and scope of their decision making, they begin becoming more accountable for the actions. After all, they are now responsible for them.
Educated and Educating
Educated athletes have knowledge about the decisions they're making. Whether it is about where the equipment goes at the end of the night or where the ice packs are, to make decisions for the betterment of all, athletes must be educated.
How do our athletes gain this knowledge? Once again, this responsibility is on the coach's shoulders. Knowledge is not obtained in a sitting. It grows over the course of time; each teaching moment increases an athlete's level of knowledge. In addition, we must teach the athletes how to use the knowledge. Knowing where the mats go is not the same as knowing where to put the mats at the end of a rotation - and actually doing it.
"Knowledge without practice is useless. Practice without knowledge is dangerous." - Confucious
Engaged and Engaging
We can all picture engaged athletes. Those athletes staring into the coach's eyes, listening intently, and trying their very best to implement the coach's instructions. Engaged athletes are a gift. After taking in instructions, engaged athletes help lead workouts, not just organizationally but by demonstrating a supreme work ethic. In fact, sometimes they are so engaged that they end up helping to coach the other athletes. They're able to recognize both positives and negatives in themselves and their teammates.
So let's engage. The first step in engaging with athletes is showing up focused. This can involve having detailed lesson plans, goals, and expectations. In addition, having an open dialogue with your athletes can increase the level of engagement. When your athletes know that you care about them on both a personal and sport specific level they gain trust in you. This trust increases and athletes willingness and desire to please. Keeping this desire to please in balance with a willingness to make mistakes leads us to encouragement.
Encouraged and Encouraging
Encouraged athletes keep pushing. They push in practice. They push in games. They know that each mistake is just a stepping stone to future progress. If athletes are constantly afraid that they are going to disappoint a parent, hey coach, for themselves, they will play it safe. They won't go for the three point shot or the stuck dismount. They'll make an easy pass or take a small step back because having a short term success is more important been seeing the bigger picture. Let's change this. How?
Positive coaching. It's as simple as that. Coaches that focus on what athletes do right are more successful than coaches that focus on what athletes do wrong. You cannot teach the mastery of skill without accepting the many failures that come with progress. Saying things like "That was a great first try!" or "I like that you went for it" reinforce that you are recognizing effort and I understand that the path to excellence involves a windy road of failures. In particular, when teaching empowerment, you must recognize and encourage athletes that are using their authority and knowledge to make decisions. Sometimes they will fail and make decisions for the worse instead of for the better. Do not take away their power. Educate them. Through this education in encouragement they have an opportunity to make a better choice the next time the situation presents itself.
Empowered Athletes Become Empowered Adults
Character education is not a one stop shop. It must be reinforced at home, at school, and extra curricular activities. We are all a work in progress and should take the time to recognize our improvements, especially relating to character development. Teaching children pillars of character for athletes takes patience, practice, and praise. Don't be discouraged if you do not see immediate results. The payoff will be worth the time and energy invested.
Empowered athletes become empowered adults. They will lead the next generation. Play your part in developing each athlete to have the power and knowledge to make decisions for the betterment of themselves and others.