Develop Your Kid’s Coachability

Posted on March 21st, 2023

Developing your kid’s coachability is so important for a number of reasons. First, coaching will be a part of your child’s athletic experience for as long as they play the game. And despite some of the challenges it presents, getting coached provides one of your kid’s best opportunities to learn and improve...if they learn to use it right. Their willingness and ability to get coached can separate them from others they’ll be competing with and against throughout their playing career. It can open doors that, sadly for many uncoachable athletes, remain closed forever.

Those doors usually remain closed because developing this skill is hard. Getting coached can be tough on a player, and if we’re really being honest, equally tough on a parent. Seeing your child get coached - especially coached hard - can feel critical and unfair. It can raise your defenses, and it can make the relationship you and your child have with their coach - which is so important to their experience - complicated and uncertain. One thing is obvious: developing your kid’s coachability is not for the faint of heart.

That’s why you’ve got to start with recognizing the important role coachability plays in helping your young athlete become their best. It’s why you’ve got to be intentional and committed to cultivating this valuable skill and to helping your child clarify its value and importance. It's why your very best as a sports parent will be required.

Ultimately, developing your child’s coachability is about building in them a strong and healthy filter through which information and instruction from others, including their coach, can pass. Like any filter, it serves an important purpose: it allows what’s valuable to get through, and it keeps what’s not valuable out.

Your child's filter allows what's valuable to get through, and it keeps what's not valuable out.

What’s the valuable stuff you should want your child to take in from their coach? Any information they can use to get better. If they’re serious about becoming their best, then they need to recognize that using whatever they can, including their coach's instruction, to learn and improve is so important. If that stuff isn’t working itself into their bank of knowledge and understanding, then as an athlete they’re missing a golden opportunity.

The hard part is that often that valuable information the coach has to offer can be mixed in with other elements that aren't as healthy or productive for our kids to take in. That important information can arrive to our kids gift-wrapped in their coach’s anger, frustration, or disappointment. It can be accompanied by yelling, by foot-stomping, or by wild gesticulating. It can be delivered with a dose of emotion that - if we and our kids haven’t built a system for filtering - can make getting coached much harder and much less valuable.

Usually, when the coaching gets tough or intense or emotional, players who haven’t developed a healthy filter have one of two negative responses. Sometimes those players allow that emotion and intensity to flood their system. Since they can't filter anything out, they end up taking everything in. They’re so overwhelmed by the anger or frustration or disappointment that the valuable learning opportunity gets drowned out. The other response is just the opposite. When some players see or feel that emotion and intensity coming, they put their defenses up and, instead of allowing everything in, they allow nothing in. They don't use a filter; they build a wall. The emotion doesn’t get in, but neither does the useful information that's available.

While neither of these responses are ideal, they are understandable, and what they really underscore is the important role you as a parent play in helping your kid develop their coachability. If you haven’t been intentional in helping to build and strengthen that filtering system, they'll probably end up either letting too much in... or not letting enough in. It’s important to understand that this kind of well-functioning system can be developed, but it takes time and effort. As a parent, you’ve got to build it one coachable experience at a time. You’ve got to embrace the process that growth and improvement requires of our kids in any area, including this one.

So how does that process look? It starts with a conversation. Talk to your child about the benefits and the challenges that come with getting coached. Use the filter analogy if that helps bring the idea to life. Then, put that filer to work. Your young athlete will have plenty of chances to get coached, and when they do - especially in those emotional moments - keep an eye on their response. If they’re being overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment, then you know that filter’s letting too much in. If they put their defenses up and can’t take anything from the interaction, then you know that filer’s not letting enough in. I’m confident that the more they work on it - and the more you support and encourage their growth and understanding - the better and better they’ll get.

Of course, a perfectly designed filtering system is the goal, one that allows your child to sift through the challenging dynamics of their player-coach relationship, pull out what’s valuable, and discard what’s not. That’s a strong, smart, committed athlete we’re talking about there. But as always, athletes like that don’t get built or developed by accident. Coachable athletes are usually the by-product of a parent who recognizes the value of getting coached themselves. One who’s learned to manage the challenges that come with the experience, for their child and for themselves. One who’s strong, smart, and committed to doing what champions do, and helping their kids do the same.

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