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Rethinking the Definition of Athletic Success

Rethinking the Definition of Athletic Success
Mike Romeo

Now that I’m an Athletic Director, I have an opportunity to oversee a group of coaches. Clearly, an athletic program is only as strong as its coaches. We are very fortunate to have some of the best in the business coaching our teams. Quality coaches will always tell you that you never stop learning as a coach. 

At our first coaches meeting back in September, I challenged our coaches to think more about what their players might be thinking or feeling. I’m sure many of the coaches I had growing up would see no value in this information. I remember one coach saying, “On this team, we don’t question the coach. It is a dictatorship. It’s my way, or the highway.” That was the 70’s and 80’s. Thankfully, coaching has changed. 

While coaching philosophies may have changed for the better, the challenges and pressure put on our student-athletes has intensified. The mental health and wellness of our student-athletes has rightfully been moved to the forefront of everything we now do as coaches. 

At that first meeting, the first slide that I displayed on the screen was this:

”As leaders of impressionable, young student-athletes, all members of the Wardlaw+Hartridge coaching staff should recognize the potential impact their leadership and influence can have on those they coach.” 

The top priority of our coaches should be to try to get to know our players better. The most successful coaches I’ve seen understand the importance of knowing their players. While it helps us motivate players to be successful on the field, that information is more valuable to help us understand the anxiety and pressures our student-athletes might be feeling. 

In a team sport you spend a lot of time trying to get players to be unified, but we must recognize that they all have minds of their own and arrive at practices or games with their own set of priorities, confidences, and fears. 

I’m constantly seeking feedback about the athletic experience here. You will often find me in conversation with players or parents trying to get a gauge on how things are going. I learn a lot from that feedback. I have had my players do an anonymous survey online after the season, so I can get honest feedback from their perspectives. 

I have learned a lot from those surveys. I found out that I was not the master communicator I thought I was. I learned that students often have a completely different set of priorities than what I thought. I discovered that my words and actions had an impact on our players and, despite my efforts to motivate and genuinely care for my players, the impact was not always positive. I had to completely rethink what I was doing as a high school coach and none of it had to do with my sport. 

The challenge to our coaches going forward is to try to step back from your sport-specific plans sometimes and find time to get to know your players. Observe and enjoy the process more often. Encourage your players to enjoy the experience more and obsess about stats less. We need to think about what our students will take away from this experience.

On a lighter note, I once asked in the survey: “What the was the highlight of the season for you?” In a season that we won the division and had many memorable moments, several girls said that “singing on the bus” was their highlight. 

Sounds like success to me.