Inside Pitch Magazine, September/October 2023

The Change Up: The Most Powerful Words in Coaching

By: Adam Sarancik

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK MetcalfCoaches tap into infinite resources to teach their players the fundamentals and mechanics of their sport, and yet, they often fail to tap into the most important one—the mental and emotional state of their players living through many challenges in their daily lives. They fail to recognize that before they can train the athlete and develop the player, they must connect with, validate and support the person.  

Student-athletes today who want to be elite must meet high standards in every aspect of their life. In school, they must master scores of details in six or more subjects every day or they may fall short of achieving grades sufficient to get them into the college of their choice. In sports, coaches at top programs challenge and scrutinize every athletic move they make and the “get better every day” mantra sets a bar that seemingly can never be met.

At home, well-meaning parents echo the coaches’ sentiments by preaching the benefits of proper nutrition, yet too often such food and drink does not exist on the shelves or in the refrigerator. The atmosphere at home can be a roller coaster of emotions. Parents are typically under significant stress to meet the financial needs of their family, support the children’s school and navigate extra-curricular activities. It is very common for youth to feel responsible for the marital problems of their parents and the academic and emotional struggles of their siblings.

Youth try to escape the madness by doing what they have been conditioned to do since before they could talk—get lost into their technological devices.  Most days, this distraction lasts well into the night at the expense of their academic study and the precious hours of quality sleep necessary to support and recharge their growing bodies.

Coaches feel intense pressure from athletic directors, boosters and parents to win games and championships. Many times coaches define their success in these same ways. Yet, truly great coaches learn that the words of appreciation they will receive from their players years later will have nothing to do with wins and championships; they will be about how the coach made them a better person. After all, players will forget most of what a coach said or did, but they will never forget how a coach made them feel.

The first step in developing a good player is getting them to believe they are a good person.

DK Metcalf, the star NFL wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, was asked recently what person he credited most with motivating him to be the best he could be in his life. He quickly responded, “My seventh grade math teacher.”  When asked why, he said, “He took me aside and told me he believed in me; that I was special and had abilities and potential very few people had. If I worked hard to do my best at all times, he said I could do and be anything I wanted in life.”

I have trained many players in my career who have had great success in their sport. Those who did not all had one thing in common. They did not believe the coaches of their teams truly understood, cared about and believed in them.  A coach must earn the trust of the player before the player will fully buy into being taught by the coach.

At all times, and in any setting, the most powerful motivational words in life are, “I am proud of you.”  

If a player thinks the coach understands, cares about and believes in the player, those words can cause the player to achieve things even the coach did not think were possible. Every day, coaches need to find ways to make their team members believe they are good people and are worthy of their praise before they try to make them good athletes and players.

When coaches do this, they coach champions—Champions for Life. 

Adam Sarancik is the author of an Amazon Top 100 Best Seller, “Coaching Champions for Life—The Process of Mentoring the Person, Athlete and Player” and its companion book, “Takeaway Quotes for Coaching Champions for Life.” Adam’s newest acclaimed book is “A Ground Ball to Shortstop—How and Why Coaches See Their Game Differently Than Anyone Else.”

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