10 considerations for coaching in the technology era
How many coaches can say they coached the same sport at the same school for 35 years?
Steve Kostka can.Kostka started coaching girls track and field at just 22 years old, and things were quite different back then. He came from both high school and college teams that were not very successful.
“I took over for a very good coach,” said Kostka, who spent the bulk of his career at Arrowhead High School in Wisconsin. He gave himself four years to maintain the success, and it happened. So he stayed.
With 24 years of experience as a head coach, Kostka provided some valuable insight on how to roll with the changes.
1. Attend clinics, learn from the experts and develop a training program.
“When I was a brand new coach I depended upon a good friend of mine, the head coach from Mukwonago (High School),” Kostka said, “I would call him and ask him what he did for workouts.”
Kostka stresses that he learned from those around him and was able to take a training program and tweak it based on the individual athletes that were on the team.
2. Embrace technology.
“Track now has more information systems to use than 35 years ago. I fought kicking and screaming this new technology, but in the past few years I have embraced it,” Kostka said.
His assistants are young and tech savvy, which helps him adjust to this style of administration. Years ago, he was printing workouts on a weekly basis. Now, he communicates through a website that was set up for the team.
“All coaches can be on the site at the same time and decisions can be made using the website as a conversational piece as well as structuring workouts and how we position our athletes in meets,” he said.
3. Coach or assist in another sport.
Although Kostka’s specialty was sprinting, he coached at least part-time in all of the other events, with the exception of vault and throwing. It gives coaches a good understanding of coaching generals when you open yourself to a new sport. Kostka also was the cross country coach for a few years at Arrowhead.
“That helped me understand the distance mentality, the program and how they run that,” he said.
4. Find your own assistant coaches; take part in the hiring process.
“I can’t remember the last coach that was hired where I wasn’t sitting in on the interview with the athletic director,” Kostka said. “The one thing the staff has in common is that they all buy into my philosophy on what track and field means in high school.”
5. Develop your own philosophy.
“I look back and think seven or eight years ago I was eighth in conference meets. I made the decision then that I no longer wanted to finish eighth in a conference meet, and I got the staff together and asked them what we need to do so that we’re not there. We came up with a philosophy, and it’s a scheme that worked,” Kostka said.
Part of that philosophy was to develop a track program where the athletes are happy to be there. The staff treats everyone the same.
“If the athletes are happy, the success follows,” he said.
Kostka added that part of his philosophy was setting individual expectations and asking the athletes to verbalize or write down their own goals.
“I have actually put a piece of tape on a wall when I was coaching high jump and I’d say, ‘this is your goal, you said it is … then put it in your bedroom at home, so when you wake up in the morning, you see it and you can visualize the fact that you can reach it.’ That seems to be a very good learning tool.”
6. Let the success of your sport be your best recruiting tool.
“When I was a brand new coach, I wasn’t a very good recruiter. I didn’t do things like make the sport fun,” Kostka said. “So as I grew as a coach, I decided I needed to make this special for them.”
Now, his athletes do the recruiting for him. They tell their friends about the program, and it developed a reputation.
“We try to have a product that’s good for the athletes and they want to be a part of,” he added.
Kostka also mentioned how lucky he was to have the support system from the athletic director and other coaches involved in the athletic program at Arrowhead. “When I was young I thought that we had to develop a team by ourselves, but that is not the way it is,” he said. “It’s a culture in the school. They want to be a part of something that they know they’re going to get some success.”
“In the beginning, I worked a lot harder at planning,” Kostka said.
He ran the same program every year and stuck to the training schedule day-by-day, hour-by-hour. “I have a website that holds every one of my workouts from previous years. If today we’re supposed to do X, today we do it.”
Kostka emphasized the importance of making the athletes believe in the training program that you have. With approximately 150 girls in the program, track and field requires prep, organization and clear communication.
8. Discipline: rules and expectations.
“We have a very disciplined group,” Kostka said. “We put restrictions and parameters on our athletes in the track program. Once we started doing that, we found that a lot of the things that some coaches might have trouble with went away.”
For example, Kostka didn’t let the students participate in a meet if they miss a practice, and after they miss a certain number of practices, they were suspended from the team.
“In the beginning when I did suspend my better athletes, it was tough because I was sacrificing a meet or a chance, but the overall lesson was you can’t do this,” Kostka said.
With so many athletes, it’s important to monitor them all fairly.
“I talk as a group to the entire team, and I lay out what are the expectations and goals of the team,” he said.
He puts sportsmanship and respect at the top of the list. “In society, the language has changed drastically since I started coaching. Expecting them to use proper language, calling us ‘coach’ and respecting each other are the things we do to motivate them,” Kostka said.
9. Change, tweak, adapt to new training methods.
The older you get, the more you see,” Kostka said.
He changed his whole training program for his sprinters after learning about their abilities. “I decided to change my workouts when I noticed there were good athletes on the team that were not reaching their potential,” he said.
The boys coach gave him a day-to-day workout schedule that he received from the Olympic training camp for sprinters. “I took his workouts and changed them to accommodate high school girls,” he said.
This was a hard transition for Kostka — he had used the same sprint workouts from 24 years ago. But it worked and that’s what he’s used.
10. Trust your assistants.
Kostka had a staff of eight coaches, and each assistant coach handled their area of expertise.
“I offered suggestions and ultimately made final decisions, but I am very comfortable with the quality of staff I had,” he said.
Once his team hit 75 people, he knew he needed to be more of an overseer than an instructor. The staff took ownership of its athletes and builds team camaraderie among them.
“Our distance coach got all his athletes together once or twice a week for breakfast,” he said. “Though it might not be a group thing for 130 people, my coaches individualized their athletes and do things together with them.”
Kostka didn’t see any major changes in the future for girls track and field at Arrowhead. It’s always been a no-cut sport and one that offers the best cross-training for other sports.
“We want to have as many athletes participate as possible,” Kostka said. “At Arrowhead, we’re interested in doing what is absolutely right for students,” he said.