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Rudyard coaching

 SCHOOL OF SPORT TIM MIDDLETON

MANY readers will be aware of the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling entitled simply If, but may not have connected the advice given in the poem to be appropriate for coaches.

The fact is, if we are to improve our players by improving them as people (as discussed previously) then we must ensure we improve our own characters more than we improve our own ability to coach our sporting. We must become better coaches by being better people: we need to apply Kipling’s advice as coaches.

So, Kipling would argue, if we can stay calm in the heat of the match while our team is panicking and, what is more, when they are looking to blame us for their mistakes and the team’s performance; if we can remain confident when all the crowd and critics are questioning our ability or attitude or tactics but at the same time we are willing to listen and consider their points of view; if we can wait for our ideas and tactics that we have explained in training sessions to be grasped by our players and put into action in a match and not get frustrated or angry that we are not out there on the pitch; if we can watch opponents conning the referee to think that they were fouled when they were not, and not encourage our players to involve themselves in such play-acting;  if we can stand up to opponents who shout, push, punch, shove, kick, hit, foul our players non-stop but continue to have our players play the match fairly, quietly, respectfully, without showing off or point out how fair and respectful we are; if we can do all that, we must understand, we will be a real coach.

If we can have ambition and visualise ourselves winning the match or medal or trophy, without being so consumed or blind to the reality all around us that there are other important factors to consider; if we can apply our mind to find ways to improve our performance without forgetting that a key element of playing sport is for the players themselves to go out and enjoy the freedom of on-the-spot off-the-cuff decision-making; if we can treat winning and losing in exactly the same way for what they really are, simply two results that have no bearing on our worth or value as an individual or as a coach yet which can both provide valuable opportunities to learn and improve; if we can hear parents use the simple truths, that we have shared quietly and humbly with our players about their performance and attitude, in such a way that we are made to seem a fool in the eyes of the crowd and indeed players but yet we do not try to correct their scheming and ranting; if we can watch all our careful preparation and life-long dedication to helping youngsters develop in their sport crash dismally with one catastrophic performance in front of a large baying crowd but still pick ourselves up with weary effort at the next training session and seek to repair all that was lost; if we can do all that as well, then we are definitely on the way to be a real coach.

If we can take everything that has brought us great success up to now with one team, risk it on moving to another team only to find the results go totally against us right from the start and lead to our sacking, then go back to a lower team again and not complain, blame or even refer to it again; if we can put in long hours behind the scenes when we are exhausted, when no-one is watching and when results are not forthcoming, simply to try to find a way to stem the flow of bad results, when everyone else is telling us to step down, but not give up on them; we will surely be a real coach.

If we can accept the praises of fellow coaches with humility and reality but at the same time engage with superstar coaches without forgetting where we have come from with our coaching; if neither our players or our opponents can upset us in any way; If we can treat every player, from the strongest to the weakest, the oldest to the youngest, with exactly the same respect, individuality, time and passion; if we can make the most of every situation, opportunity and player that comes our way, even when there appears no benefit, fruit or hope; if we can do all that, then we really have made it, we have discovered the wonder, beauty and privilege of coaching young people and more importantly we have cracked coaching. We will understand why we decided to become a coach.

When Neil Powell, the South African Sevens rugby coach, said that, “If I improve you as a player but not as a person, I have failed you as a coach and as a mentor” he meant also that if we do not improve as a person ourselves, we will equally fail our players. We must become a better person to be a better coach. There is no better place to start than these words of Kipling on coaching.

  • Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw

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