All Coaches Should Aspire to Be Olympic Standard Coaches

With all of the headlines in recent news about ongoing wars, torture of animals, mass shootings, economic crisis, environmental crisis, and football coach predators and cover ups, I’d like a break from the overwhelm of human failings. I hope to find this in the 2012 London Olympic Games. More than the spectacle of athleticism, what would make me feel better is seeing some redemption of coaches.

I want to see kindhearted, caring, supportive coaches prevail with their athletes; not supersized egos, seen in all sorts of sporting contexts outside of the Olympic arena, not “put me on a pedestal, I’m the coach” attitude, not one who exploits an athlete for his benefit. I want to see caring humans making a real difference with athletes they assist in limit pushing. I want to see coaches who act as facilitators of something that transcends individual egos. I want to see coaches who have great relationships with the athletes they serve. …Or at least believe that this is what’s happening behind the scenes.

The pageantry, ceremony, and celebrated beauty in physical form are pleasantries to behold during the Olympic Games. I love to watch mental skills in action: the looks of concentration, the pre-performance rituals, the quiet moments of meditation prior to “go time,” and supportive gestures from coach to athlete pre- and post-event. With the array of mental skills that are clearly important to athletic performance, a critical piece of performance that some neglect, avoid, or underappreciate, is the power of coaching—the coach/athlete relationship.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) holds that part of its mission is to promote coaching education. Attending to psychology and performance science is recognized as part of optimal coaching. I am happy to see the emphasis on the importance of sound coaching, involving psychological principles. At the same time I want coaches everywhere to recognize that a good relationship or alliance is the foundation for performance science to flourish. As with therapy, there is power in having a witness to what you are doing in an effort to be better at something. There is power in the subtle push of the witness that helps the process along. Similarly, there is enhanced physical performance when coaches pay attention to body, mind, and relationship. The crucible for any of the physical and mental skill building is the relationship.

Part of what makes therapy work is clear ethics and boundaries that define the rules of the relationship. I suggest that all coaches can enhance performance by taking care to be ethical in their important relationships with athletes. The USOC promotes a list of ethical principles and guidelines for Olympic coaches, similar to the codes therapists follow.

Some of the ethical guidelines in the USOC coaches’ code of ethics are as follows:

1.4 Basis For Professional Judgments
Coaches rely on scientifically and professionally derived knowledge when making professional judgments or when engaging in professional behaviors.

1.6 Respecting Others
Coaches respect the rights of others to values, attitudes, and opinions that differ from their own.

1.11 Avoiding Harm
Coaches take reasonable steps to avoid harming their athletes or other participants, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable.

So here’s what I propose. Let’s aspire, as representatives of the USA, to be role models of good coaching. We pride ourselves on having a great lineup of athletes and tally of medals. Let’s see if the Olympic coaches can be the shining example that this country needs right now. And let’s agree that we’d like our coaches at all levels in the USA to perform at their best with all levels of athletes.

Here is my call to all coaches across the nation: If we want our youth to perform at their best in recreational, high school, and college sports, let’s take some direction from the Olympic coaches and their best practices embodied by their ethical guidelines. And here is my call to parents and school staff: If we want youth to perform at their best and agree that coaches are important facilitators of development, how about parents and schools adopt a code of ethics that parents and coaches have to sign and uphold? Let’s bring the Olympic spirit of striving for the best every 4 years to a daily practice of coaching in schools nationwide. If we want coaches to be respected and considered professionals, we need to start expecting them to uphold “what works” in the coaching world, starting with ethical guidelines that establish boundaries for appropriate behavior and good relationships. Knowledge, respect, and doing no harm within those relationships are critical elements.

What I often hear of and see is coaches who harm athletes with their words. While some people may believe that yelling, demeaning language or behavior, and verbal abuse can sometimes lead to performance gains, these things are unethical according to Olympic standards, not to mention largely ineffective. These behaviors could be considered as not scientifically sound, disrespectful, and harmful (see above ethical guidelines).

Whatever the caliber of athlete, recreational league, high school, college, or Olympic, we as the people who witness their performance need to make coaches accountable for how they perform, and not with a “firing line” for the win/loss record. Just like athletes practice their sport and aspire to constantly improve, I’d like coaches from all levels to aspire to be the best they can be and show it with sound coaching practices. No unethical behavior: No yelling, no verbal abuse, no humiliation, no disrespect. Instead, praise, corrective feedback, more praise, knowledge, motivation, understanding, supportive pushing, and respect for the path of discipline and hard work, with some fun along the way.

I’m sure we will see many exemplary performances by athletes in the coming weeks of the Olympic Games. But as for me, I will be watching the coaches. I hope to see some exemplary coaches on the sidelines role modeling what it means to be a great coach. I want to hear them say things to the media that restores my faith in the goodness of coaches who really have the athletes’ best interests at heart. I hope coaches everywhere will take note when they see subtle and overt support, encouragement, patience, and kindness toward the athletes who worked so hard to get there and recognize that our perceptions of coaching need to change. Let us see that ethical coaches do bring best performance, not the old ways of the “old school” coach. As youth aspire to be Olympic athletes, l encourage coaches to aspire to be Olympic standard coaches. Athletes would not excel in ways they do without the power of a good coaching relationship, but that power is often abused. Olympic coaches, please lead the way for coaches everywhere to practice respect, gain knowledge, and do no harm. That is worth more than gold.

Sources:
USOC coaching ethics code. Retrieved 7-24-12 http://assets.usoc.org/assets/documents/attached_file/filename/1906/USOCCoachingEthicsCode.pdf

Related articles:
Tough, Vulnerable, and Beautiful
In Praise of Praise: On the Right Use of Influence
Shame as an Ethics Issue – Part I

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Darla Sedlacek, PhD, therapist in Lakewood, Ohio

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Germaine

    Germaine

    July 26th, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    Just because there is this code of ethics for these Olympic coaches certainly doesn’t mean that they all adhere to them. Haven’t you heard about all the cases of these Olympic athletes being banned from games for taking illegal supplements? You don’t think that in many of these cases there is this supposedly upstanding Olympic coach standing behind them and encouraging them to take this and that, that they will never get caught, and don’t you want to win this medal for your country? I don’t think that the athletes are doing this on their own. I think that more than we know there is a coach on the sidelines telling them that this is okay and that this is what they have to do to bring honor back to their home country. They are not all like this, I know that, but there are many who are and to put them on this pedestal of high morality just is not where many of them belong.

  • Dr. Darla

    Dr. Darla

    July 26th, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    That’s exactly my point. I’m hoping to see examples of high standard coaching, hoping it sets the tone for others. It can be done. Coaches should not be on pedestals, but rather ethical behavior!

  • tory

    tory

    July 26th, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    There are very few people these days who embody all of the elements that it takes to make it as a coach at this level.

    These are coaches who put just as much into the sport and the athlete then the athletes even do. It takes so much dedication and determination to make it as this level, with rarely any sort of recognition.

    Thanks for highlighting this group within the sports world who often go unappreciated.

  • Dale P

    Dale P

    July 26th, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    The coaches who have made it to this level have so much more to offer society than they are given credit for.
    They have tons of valuable lessons that they can share with any aspiring athlete, really with anyone who has a dream about making it to the epitome of what they choose to do in life.
    These are the men and women who have seen the talent, the triumph, and the tears that go along with working hard and striving to be the best.
    They are the ones who know what it takes to be a success and what to avoid when you want to avoid failing.

  • Anne

    Anne

    July 27th, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    Coaches, no matter what they coach or where, are human just like the rest of us. They say some things and do some things that probably aren’t the best in the world, but they make mistakes. We all do. I think that in the end if the athletes being coached respect the coach then they will forgive them their pitfalls. Look at Coach Bob Knight. To the rest of us we think what a horrible mann he must be, yelling and screaming like that from the sidelines. But ask any of his players and hardly any of them have anything negative to say about him. They have priase for how he taught them discipline and the game and they love him like a father. I think that that says a whole lot about how an athlete relates to this person in charge of their training and just how much they tend to look up to these men and women in these positions.

  • richard

    richard

    July 27th, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    A coach is not all about teaching you the different techniques and the nuances of the sport,but also guides you in your path forwards.He is someone who is with you whether you win or fail,encouraging you when you don’t.He is someone who will not let you break down when you think that one loss was everything.But most of all he is someone who will not treat you like a machine(although that may the point of competitive sports for some) but treat you like a human with a target while helping you find your way there.

  • MartiN

    MartiN

    July 27th, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    The point that needs to be made is that not all coaches will make it to the bigs, but they shouldn’t ever stop trying to get there any more than the athletes and competitors should.

  • Lovell

    Lovell

    July 28th, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    I think that the one thing that we can take from this is that we should all aspire to this Olympic level no matter what we do in life. From being the best parent to the best spouse, the best child to the best leader, no matter what we do in life we should always try to give our all, one hundred percent in. This never means that we will always be the best, because life’s not like that. You can never be the best at everything that you do. But you have to do it as if you are the best. Does that make sense? I hate it when I don’t feel like I have given it my all, like I know I could have done better, because then that makes me sad about the things that I could have missed out on because I did not do the right thing. Or the things that I could have become had I really devoted myself to that endeavor. This is such an important life lesson that I think we are all slacking a little off from, that it would be good for us if we would give a little more, because you are always going to get so much in return when you do.

  • David Hamilton | Everlution

    David Hamilton | Everlution

    July 28th, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    Being a different kind of life/executive coach of a deeper transformational style I agree with this completely, especially on the compassion piece. But I guess I’m biased giving my training. :) I can’t claim to know what Olympic coaches go through. This is an interesting conversation for sure.

    I love the CD set from Nightingale Pubs called Maverick Mindset by John Eliot. He’s a performance coach that helped many athletes break through slumps and difficulties and he’s an enthusiastic, skilled and compassionate coach.

  • zane

    zane

    July 29th, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    Some coaches are so much on a big ego trip that they forget the real reason behind their jobs!

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