Overemphasis on Being Coachable

One of the common themes in coaching today is the idea that players need to be coachable. Head coaches, assistant coaches, trainers, everyone is constantly talking to players and about players being coachable. It’s something that I agree with, and a valuable tool for players to acquire. It seems that a generally accepted idea of being coachable would be: someone who is respectful of the coach, someone who has a thirst for learning, someone who will accept and apply constructive criticism and instruction, and someone who plays and practices with a good attitude.
I understand that this isn’t an official Webster’s definition, but I think it probably encompasses much of the behaviors and actions that we think of when we think of players that are coachable.
As I’ve continued to hear about the need for players to be coachable over the last few years, at clinics, on Twitter, and as I’ve used this term with players myself, there are two issues that have stirred up inside of me about this oft used phrase.
I am concerned that we are treating this idea of coachability the same way that we treat leadership. We like to pound the leadership drum, and tell young people the following things: “be a leader”, “don’t be a follower”, “we need leaders on this team” “we are counting on you to be a leader”. While some of these things may be true (it’s okay to be a follower at times), the problem is that we tell young people how important leadership is, and then we do very little to define what that really means, and we a poor job equipping and then supporting them as they grow into a confident leader. It seems to me that we are now doing the same thing with “be coachable”. I don’t mean everyone, just as a collective of coaches. Generally speaking, our message isn’t well crafted, and our development of players in this area is lacking.
If you are someone who believes players need to learn to be coachable, I don’t disagree. I would challenge you to determine what that means for you and your program, and define that well, first for yourself, and then for your players. It’s unreasonable for us to hold our players to standards regarding behavior and performance when we haven’t defined what it really means. Additionally, if we are going to hold them accountable, we must first teach them WHAT this means, HOW to apply it, and in many cases, WHY it is relevant for them, on and off the playing field. It’s no different than your offensive or defensive principles. If you are going to expect certain behaviors, actions, or results, then you have to commit the time, energy, and resources necessary to put your players in a position to be successful.
In other words, if you are going to demand that your players be coachable, you have to teach them what that means.
Another concern I have with the emphasis of players being coachable, is that primarily, the idea is spoken by coaches, and if we are not careful, I think we can hide behind this theme. What I mean is, when players respond negatively to us, when players show bad body language, when our teams don’t practice hard, when we lose games, or when we are speaking to parents about their children, it can all be explained away as, “our players just aren’t coachable”, or “he just needs to be more coachable”. This may be true at times, but I think we have to be careful not to make it a catchall. Remember, this is a process, and according to Twitter, everyone believes in the importance of “the process”. If that is true, then we have to allow our players to go through the process of BECOMING more coachable (not BEING. You can’t BE without first BECOMING). We have to describe what that means, display it ourselves, and THEN, we can demand (hold accountable) that they meet this standard.
One final question I would pose. We want our players to be coachable, but:
How playerable are you?
I know that isn’t a word, but… Are you a coach that YOU would want to play for? Are you a coach you would want your son or daughter to play for? Are you coaching in a way that ENCOURAGES coachability from your players? Do your actions generate and cultivate respect, rather than simply demanding it? Why should your players play for you?
That may look like something different for every coach. Maybe you are a tough love coach, maybe you put a heavy emphasis on developing character and that is how you are being playerable. Maybe you make things fun and memorable for your players so they will be enthusiastic about their experience in your program. There are many different ways to be playerable, and we all have to do what works for us. Most likely it’s a combination of many different methods, if we are doing it right.
The challenge, I think, is for us not to hide behind just demanding or expecting players to be coachable, without taking any accountability for this ourselves.
Expectations for our players are okay, but it’s unhealthy for leaders to always hide behind heaping the responsibility on those under them. We have to take responsibility for being good coaches too.
If we aren’t careful, this can go from an attribute that we feel is important for our players development, to an issue that just makes our lives easier as coaches. So it goes from player focused to being self serving.
As you talk about being coachable, I encourage you to make sure you and your players know what that means and teach your players HOW. At the same time, ask yourself; How you can be more playerable?

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