How Becoming a Parent Changes Your Coaching Style - Part 1

XmasIn the beginning of my coaching career, I would occasionally hear the quip, "things will change when you have kids". I thought to myself - "No way!  I will be the exact same coach after having children that I was before."  Well, not to say that I was "wrong", but I was... wrong. I have now spent about 1/2 of my coaching career in each realm: the childless realm and the parent realm. While both realms have taught me a lot, here are a few things that have changed since becoming a mom 7 years ago.

1. Pick Your Battles

AJKAdam (4) has always been a challenge in the mornings.  That child would rather stay upstairs, half naked, playing with his ninja turtles than come down stairs for breakfast.  We diligently lay out clothes before bed every night, asking him for input on what he would like to wear the next day.  Then morning comes, Adam walks downstairs, and he is in completely different, mismatched clothes: blue pants with navy stripes and a red and black Iron Man shirt.  What do I do?  Smile.  He woke up, got dressed, and came downstairs for breakfast.

As a coach, we deal with athletes facing different struggles every day. It is our job to correct form, technique, speed, and performance. We are teaching perfection, or at least as close as each athlete can get to it. I used to come in with my assignment on paper that we were getting through ... period. This occasionally made for some rough and long practices. Extra time spent on a rotation, tears falling because goals were not being met, voices rising in hopes of motivation. At the end of the day, the kids were frustrated, I was disheartened, and no one was really better off.

Fast forward 7 years, the struggles I face remain similar. They vary from day to day and it is my job to perfect them. I come in with a clear lesson plan, hoping to address the problem areas methodically. Then we get to our last rotation on floor, and start tumbling on the bungee mats. My girls look like they have on lead boots. They are tumbling on an air floor and can't get more than 2 feet off the ground! What's up next in the workout? Back to back floor routines: an endurance exercise to push the girls strength and endurance twice as long as the regular amount of time. I look at my workout and just know: this isn't going to happen today.

I layout the news to my athletes: "We are going to swap this workout with tomorrow's. You ladies look exhausted this evening."

Sighs are heard across the floor. The girls are relieved as they were feeling the way they were looking. They went and put on their therabands for their sprint (no tumbling) routines and dance drills. We completed the workout, built endurance, increased flexibility, and varied from the original plan.

2.  Persuasion is Key

ReeseMy two year old daughter is constantly "teaching" me new things about parenting. Recently, when Reese was asked to clean up her books, she refused. When offered the black and white choices: pick up your books or sit in a chair, she chose to sit in her chair. Well great, now the books are still on the floor, my child has put herself in time out, and I am going to be the one cleaning. That was not the goal.  After sharing this story with my pediatrician, he said, "Choices are great.  Just be sure you are comfortable letting them make either one."

In the gym, I have been guilty of using the ultimatum.  Let go of the bar, or sit and watch.  Normally the child doesn't make as defiant of a choice as my daughter, but the body language and the non-attempt combined send the same message.  So here we are back to the problem: the child is not better at the skill and is now sitting instead of getting better at the skill.  That was not the goal.

Persuasion is my new middle name.  M&Ms have become my new best friend.  My husband teases that I didn't bribe the boys with candy.  I tell him, she is different.

They all are different.  Each child I coach, each day I coach them.  And I spend a LOT of time with my athletes.  So what is each athlete's M&M?  I try everything.  An extra spot, a show and tell, a loud verbal praise, a high five, sometimes even money.  I have laid down a $20 bill 3 times in the last month.  That one hasn't worked yet, but I am still trying to figure out what might encourage each athlete just enough to decide it is worth whatever has been holding her back: fear, lack of focus, muscle memory, to go for it.

Our sport is tough, our competition is rigorous, and our kids are competitive.  Sometimes I choose my battles or ask athlete's sit when it causes a disruption to the group.  However, I am constantly working toward improving my athletes, my program, and my coaching ability.  There is not magic transcript, plan, or training technique.  It is through a series of trial and error that we become the best that we can be as individuals.

So as I write this and hear Adam "napping" through the wall, let us know that tomorrow we shall try again and hope for a better outcome.


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