December 12, 2020 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Guiding Coaches to create Positive Working-Relationships with Student-Athletes

While coaches should prepare their teams to win games, it is essential to remind them that the number one objective in education-based athletics is the growth and development of student-athletes. And this fundamental point does not strictly or narrowly refer to sport-specific skills. The intent is much larger and more important. The ultimate goal is to help young people become good, contributing individuals in the community and society as a whole, and someone who gained valuable qualities and traits through involvement in athletics.

Perhaps you have heard the expression that athletic administrators are, or should be, the coach of coaches. With this in mind, you should clearly explain your expectations of coaches with respect to developing good, effective working relationships with their athletes. It should be crystal clear that coaches will not be evaluated by wins or lack thereof. Evaluations will always be based upon how they relate to and help their athletes to reach their potential. Also, you should include in your discussions what qualities and traits you value and which you deem are necessary to succeed within your program.

Photo: Wesley Sykes / Great American Media Services

The following are some ideas and hints to help you to guide your coaches in order to create these vital relationships with their athletes.

  1. Identify what qualities and traits you want your coaches to possess. While each school setting may be slightly different and unique, many athletic administrators probably want someone who is supportive, nurturing, encouraging, positive, caring, and more concerned about the development of student-athletes than their own personal goals and ambitions. 
  2. Create interview questions that will reveal and provide insight into the important qualities which you desire in your coaches. Developing a good relationship with athletes starts at this very point by hiring the right person. This means identifying an individual who is a good fit for your education-based program and will help your student-athletes to grow and develop. 
  3. Take your role of helping coaches to develop good, positive, and effective relationships with athletes seriously because it is vital. As covered in the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s Leadership Training Course 504, providing training for coaches is one of the 14 legal duties of an athletic director. And training includes mentoring, which is another way of saying ‘guiding.’ As the coach of coaches, you need to establish and clearly communicate your expectations. 
  4. Start each school year and season with a staff meeting. While you probably will have an extensive agenda, providing your expectations for how coaches should develop working relationships with their athletes should be one of the focal points and covered thoroughly. Never assume that your staff understands these details even if they have heard the message before. This point, like all others, has to be covered annually in order to provide a method for accountability. 
  5. Reiterate and remind your coaches of your expectations. Most individuals forget something at some point and benefit from a well-timed and intended reminder. Since you are in charge, it is your responsibility to keep your coaches doing what is necessary to provide the best environment for your student-athletes. A good medium and vehicle to accomplish this task is to use a carefully-worded email. 
  6. Understand that there is another reason why reminders are vitally important. Yes, some individuals may forget as just mentioned. But also, the original message may have been missed or misunderstood. One should never assume that everyone initially assimilated and processed your expectations. Periodic reminders may fill-in the communication gaps and help make sure that most of your staff are on the same page. 
  7. Use links to send articles that feature positive examples of coaches interacting with student-athletes. If need be, you can also photocopy and distribute helpful information and materials. But regardless of your method of delivery, these documents can subtly support your basic message. 
  8. Highlight and reinforce positive incidents with your coaches when they encourage, support, or help an athlete. This endeavor can be as simple as a quick, casual comment.  “Hey, great job encouraging your players in that one drill yesterday. I saw your efforts as I was walking by.  Keep it up!  Good job!” Sincere compliments and praise go a long way toward developing a supportive and nurturing culture, which is what you are trying to establish. 
  9. Evaluate the approach which you used with your coaching staff with respect to helping them create good, supportive relationships with their athletes. This process is no different than any other aspect of responsibility involved in your position. As an athletic administrator, you should always take a hard look to determine if things worked well, what could be improved and if anything should be added. 


  10. Don’t forget to listen to your student-athletes when judging the success of coaches in creating positive, supportive relationships. A good technique is to conduct exit interviews with graduating seniors, or at least a sampling of them if the number is exceptionally large. This group should be able to provide candid answers since their status on next year’s team will not be affected by anything they may say. 
  11. Revise and update your approach if your evaluation indicates that something is desirable and crucial. Small, minor tweaks can and should take place when needed, but a major overhaul probably would be best handled during the summer. 
  12. Constantly look for new ideas that might be helpful in your effort to guide your coaching staff. This step can be as simple as networking with your colleagues, reading professional publications, and attending conferences. As with other aspects of your job, it just takes a little time and creativity to uncover different, workable, and successful approaches.

When one thinks about the high school athletic experience of student-athletes, the relationship with their coach is probably the most important, impactful part of it. A coach often is one of the most influential individuals in an athlete’s life and someone who he or she will remember forever. Isn’t it worth the effort, therefore, to help your coaches to be more supportive, encouraging, and nurturing? It really is a fundamental part of education-based athletics!