Archived Feature: Coaches need coaching, too

By Matt Krumrie Special to USA Wrestling | Sept. 17, 2014, 9:51 a.m. (ET)

Photo on TheMat.com homepage - The University of Oklahoma coaches matside at the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships. Photo by Larry Slater.

Wrestling coaches always encourage wrestlers to adapt, adjust, and learn in order to be successful. Danny Struck, a USA Wrestling Gold Level Certified coach and Indiana State Wrestling Association Coaches Education Director, says the best wrestling coaches do the same. They always look for ways to improve, learn, and become the best they can be at their craft.

"Ongoing development is crucial for coaches," says Struck.

Last year, Struck attended two strength and conditioning clinics and six wrestling-related seminars/clinics. He's in his 17th year of coaching and recently obtained his second Masters degree, this one in coaching and sports administration. He has notes and logs of every practice he's ever run.

"I seek out other sports, go listen to speakers, anyone that can be an inspiration," says Struck. "If I hear of a good basketball coach in the area speaking, I go listen. Sports are sports and mentoring kids is much the same. Seek the best at it, but listen to all." 

Coaching requires lifelong education

Greg Bach, Vice President of Communications for the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), agrees. He’s authored six Coaching For Dummies books (football, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball and basketball) and says the best coaches are those who are constantly learning, adapting and adjusting.

"They understand that coaching is lifelong education–and just like they work to help their players learn new skills and enhance others, they also have the same mindset when it comes to their coaching skills," says Bach. "Those who strive to get better in the many different facets of coaching–such as practice planning, game day management, and communicating with parents–will enjoy the experience more, have more success and, most important, have a greater impact on the young athletes under their care."

Striking the right balance

The Positive Coaching Alliance trains tens of thousands of youth and high school sports coaches every year to become what they call a Double-Goal Coach, someone who pursues the goal of winning and the even more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports. Coaches often get caught up in the prevailing win-at-all-cost mentality of our nation’s sports culture, says Dave Jacobson, a PCA spokesperson who has coached a number of different sports at the youth, middle, and high school levels. To combat this mindset, his group advocates working toward mastery of sport, instead of focusing just on point totals, and training athletes to do the same. It’s all about striking the right balance between technical knowledge (the science of coaching) and meaningful lifelong impact on athletes (the art of coaching).

"It may seem obvious that the coaches who work hardest to improve themselves are the most successful," adds Jacobson. "What is less obvious is that athletes pick up on how hard their coaches are working to improve themselves and often that helps the athletes decide how hard to work to improve themselves."

Success is built one step at a time

Mike Clayton, Manager of USA Wrestling's National Coaches Education Program (NCEP), says long-term athlete development (LTAD) plays a huge part in properly guiding an athlete. He recommends coaches learn about the Long Term Athlete Development Program, a Canadian program that focuses on a clear path to better sport, greater health and higher achievement. The U.S. Olympic Committee is currently developing a five-stage LTAD program as well..

"Some young people won't physically mature until their late teens or even early twenties," says Clayton. "If coaches and parents push that individual too hard before they are ready to handle that stress physically, mentally and emotionally, we run the risk of wrestlers quitting our sport before they can reap the benefits they work so hard to enjoy."

Focus on the young athlete’s best interests

Kids are smart and they typically know if a coach or parent has their best interest in mind. Sometimes that means a coach has to risk losing a dual meet to rest a sick or injured athlete because it's the best decision for that individual. Coaches are faced with making many small decisions, during competition and at practice, that make a huge impact over time.

Says Clayton: "We all have egos we must contend with but a good rule of thumb is asking yourself who benefits most from the choices you make? If the answer is the student-athlete then you are almost always on the right track."

USA Wrestling offers a long line of coaching clinics and certification programs. For example, rookie coaches and parents could consider taking the Copper level certification which is an online program, says Clayton. It focuses on key concepts for those new to the sport or those who are getting back into it coaching wrestling after a break. USA Wrestling also provides numerous online videos to learn from. The NCEP will also be adding resources to TheMat.com and is updating the certification stages with tools that parents and coaches can look toward to help develop young people in a positive manner.

"We have to always learn," says Struck. "Sometimes we have to re-learn what we already knew. We coach a long time, we have to go back and remember what to do, what we did that inspired us, and what we did that once inspired others that we have not done for a long time."

Coaching Education tips

Take advantage of technology: Can't make it to a seminar or clinic? Utilize the many online resources and DVDs or videos, including those available through USA Wrestling, to learn. Exchange DVDs with other coaches. Share learning opportunities that can be done online or on your own time.

Look outside the sport: Read books from coaches from other sports as well as leaders of young people in other areas of life outside sports.

Keep records: Bring a notebook to every practice, seminar, clinic, match, and even other sporting events. Jot down notes, ideas, observations, and thoughts.

Benchmark: Struck says it's important to pay attention to other coaches and teams that are successful. Be aware of what is going on in programs around you, try and emulate the best ones,  take the top 10 teams you can find, and apply what you can to your own coaching philosophy and style, says Struck. 

Promote education among peers: The majority of youth coaches—in any sport—are unpaid volunteers, which makes it hard to find time outside of coaching, work, and family obligations to devote to ongoing education learning. But as a coach, promoting lifelong learning among other coaches helps create a positive feedback loop. So, bring it up in league meetings and push others to encourage both novice and veteran coaches to learn new skills and hone their craft.

Avoid the one-size-fits-all approach: Many ex-wrestlers become coaches, including those who have won at high levels. But it's important to transition from competitor to coach. A coach must be careful to not assume all athletes they coach handle adversity and situations the same way he or she did as a competitor. Finding what motivates each athlete may take some creativity.

Beyond the scoreboard: A coach’s real impact isn’t measured on the scoreboard. The best coaches are there for their athletes during success and failure. The importance of coaching and mentorship is the greatest at the toughest of times.

Learn and evolve: Be open to new ideas and ways of learning and coaching. 

Note: This archived feature first appeared in USA Wrestling's newsletter in September 2014.