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The 3 Things Athletes Want

Recently, I asked athletes all over the country to tell me what three things they want from a coach.  I was specifically vague in saying “things” because I did not want to lead the answers to a specific area like coaching style, personality characteristics, practice philosophy. So I just said “things” and wanted to see where the athlete’s minds went.  I received over 100 responses from both genders, a wide age range, and across many different sports.  The responses were genuine and provided great insight into what our athletes are craving from their coach.

People use many words to describe the same thing so allowing athletes to express themselves freely left me with the task of categorizing responses.  The responses ended up falling into one of the following categories (alphabetized for your suspense)…

  1. Encouragement/Believes in Me/Supportive/Positive

  2. Fair

  3. Honesty

  4. Knowledge of game/Teaching skills

  5. Loves the game/Passion

  6. Pushes Me/Challenge/Discipline/Constructive Criticism

  7. Relationship/Caring/Approachable

  8. Respect/Willing to Listen

  9. Understanding

As you read this list of categories, some may surprise you and hopefully some do not.  But what tallied up to be the top 3 certainly gave me great insight.

But before I share that, take a minute and read over the categories again.  What do you think were the top 3?  Which one did you think ranked 1st?  Which ones do you think ranked at the bottom?  Jot them down … Let’s see how well you know today’s young people …

#1 – Athletes want you to push them, challenge them, & give them feedback. (tweet this)

At 53%, the most stated “thing” athletes want from a coach was “Pushes Me / Challenge / Discipline / Constructive Criticism”.  I’ll be honest.  That was not what I expected.  I was hoping that some athletes wanted that, but didn’t expect it to be over half the athletes.  I am probably not the only person that thought this either.  Look back at your jotted down list.  Where was Pushes Me on your list?

I believe our culture, news media, social media, and small numbers of high school and college athletes have perpetuated this myth that young people don’t want to work hard.  The myth that they don’t want discipline or to be corrected.  And as coaches, we have developed this aversion to challenging our athletes because we’ve developed a perspective that they are soft.  Based on the words from the horse’s mouth, this isn’t true for the majority.  They want to be pushed and challenged.  This was an awesome revelation to this exercise.  Here are some verbatim comments from the survey that spoke to this.

19 yr old baseball player – “pushes to be my best. Doesn’t let me slack”
16 yr old volleyball player – “keep me focused on what I need to be doing”

And with most things, how it is delivered determines how it is received.  It’s like coffee to me.  I love coffee.  But if you try to serve it with cream & sugar, you can have it back!  I don’t want it served that way. Pushing, challenging, criticism is the same. They want it, but it is best received served with #2.

#2 – Athletes want to be cared about as people and want to have a personal relationship with their coach.

That is where our 2nd most requested “thing” comes in.  52% of the athletes (1% below Pushes Me) included an answer that fell into the “Relationship/Caring/Approachable” category. Athletes are communicating they want a coach that cares about them.  They want a coach that cares as much about them off the field/court/pool as they do on.  They want a coach that they can have a relationship with … that they can come to.  Again, this touchy feely stuff is portrayed as a specific generation Y/Millennial trait. But that is a lie too. 

I’m 43 years old and 25 years ago, I wanted to be cared about too.  I wanted to have a friendship with my coach.  That isn’t new.  It just wasn’t done very much.  We did what the coach told us to do whether we felt he cared or not.  But I’ll tell you a dirty little secret that is not a secret at all because we all know it but we just don’t say it out loud.  If one of my coaches would have cared more about me, I would have tried harder.  I would have been less willing to give up.  I would have listened more intently to his instruction.

But like my coffee analogy, kids want to be pushed and challenged (#1) but only by people that care (#2).  Don’t bring them the coffee with cream and sugar because they will bail on you.