If You Have Ever Felt Fearful As A Coach You Are Not Alone
All coaches – no matter how experienced they are, or how confident they appear – will sometimes experience fear.
If you have ever felt fearful as a coach, or haven’t coached yet because of fear, take heart. You are far from alone.
In the hope of encouraging more people to pursue and persist with the coaching pathway I think that it is important to dispel any misconceptions that coaches need to be some type of unshakeable superhuman who always knows the answer to everything.
They aren’t and they don’t.
Here are seven fears that are real and I suspect many coaches experience. I know, because I have personally felt them all.
1. Impostor Syndrome
Have you heard of impostor syndrome? Even if you are not familiar with the term, it is quite possible that it has affected you in the past. According to Wikepedia “It has been estimated that nearly 70 percent of individuals will experience signs and symptoms of impostor phenomenon at least once in their life.”
Impostor syndrome is a pattern of thoughts “. . . in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.” This is: “Despite external evidence of their competence . . .”. (Wikepedia).
So, if you’ve had this feeling of before, don’t think that you are alone. It is likely that a lot of coaches go through this same thinking at all levels of sport. Many competent coaches may sometimes wonder if they really are the coach that others think them to be.
Apparently, impostor syndrome can occur as a result of a new environment or challenge, with which a person may feel insecure. Coaches face new environments and challenges all of the time whether it be coaching a new team or a new athlete.
Some of my early experience involved coaching kids in talent programs and representative teams. I remember feeling a little intimidated by other more experienced coaches in this environment and also a little insecure about my coaching. In fact I now recognise this as being “impostor” syndrome, where despite my good work, I doubted myself and worried that I would be “exposed” for not knowing enough. But I stuck to it, fumbled my way through, learned, developed and gained confidence with experience.
In addition, one of the best things that you can do is connect with other coaches and work with mentors, who will make the transition into a new role smoother and easier and help you build your confidence.
It’s scary when you don’t know what to do next with an athlete. Sometimes you are just not sure how to fix a problem or know the best path to take.
It is worrying to feel that you may not have the answer or have tried everything and it hasn’t worked. Or you are getting to the point when you have run out of ideas and nothing has yet achieved the improvement or outcome you were after.
When I feel like this, I read and research. And I talk to other coaches. Look for and ask for help. You will always find someone or something that will spark a new idea or approach.
Some coaches appear so certain of their methods. In reality I think that no coach can be certain that in all cases a certain approach will work with all athletes. So don’t feel that you have to be. Be prepared to experiment, shift, investigate. It is OK to not know the answer and to admit it.
It can be scary and stressful to anticipate being judged.
Rightly or wrongly, people judge coaches by the competitive performance of the coach’s athletes. In elite sport, this is understandable. In youth sports they shouldn’t.
I think that a way to cope with being the thought of being judged is to create a very clear coaching philosophy that you feel deep down is right. I suggest making it about helping young people develop life skills and positive character traits that that will help them be successful in life beyond sport. A whole coaching philosophy can be built around knowing that the word “coach” is related to “carriage” (i.e. a means of transport).
You can successfully “transport” someone, independent of comparison with others. A strong set of coaching values can soften the fear of judgement.
Have you ever been fearful about not being good enough for the job asked of you? I have. I can remember being both excited but scared taking on a new athlete, particularly when that individual had already had some success or competed at a good level. The pressure was on! Could I teach them anything new? Could my methods help them improve?
My suggestion is to learn and grow with each and every athlete. Work alongside and in partnership with them. Be open to what they can teach you. Know that you don’t have to “know it all” and that as a coach you are always a “product in the making” . Your skills are not fixed. This growth mindset will help you to deflect any fear of inadequacy.
5. Letting Down an Athlete
Athletes and parents put a lot of faith in coaches. They often look up to the coach and expect wonderful things. It is natural to be worried that your influence won’t have the impact the athlete hopes for or the experience won’t be what they expected. No one wants to let an athlete down.
I suggest starting by giving the athlete a questionnaire. Learn as much about the athlete and their expectations as you can. Find out what they like and don’t like and what they expect of a coach. The knowledge that you gain will be invaluable. It will help you develop an approach and content that suits the athlete, and thus help to ease any fear of disappointing them.
Coaches will constantly face the possibility of their athletes leaving in favour of another coaching environment. It can be hurtful if an athlete you have coached tells you that they will be moving on to another coach or team. It is easy to feel rejected and take it personally.
Some athletes will leave because they (or their parents!) get impatient. Some will leave because they just don’t “click” personally with you. Some will leave because of friends being involved elsewhere. Some will leave because they just need a change.
If this occurs, make the transition easy for them. Let them leave on good terms.
Try to avoid being possessive of athletes. Think of yourself as being one link in the chain of their sporting experience – not the whole chain. You don’t own them. It is rare that any athlete has a lifetime coach. Most coach/athlete relationships have a use-by date. Try not to take it personally even though it may be exasperating. Clinging onto an athlete once the process begins is not pleasant for anyone. Accept it and move on.
Accept that your coaching cannot and will not please everyone.
The response stunned me. BY FAR the biggest response was “parents”. People are scared of having to “deal with” parents. Particularly young and/or inexperienced coaches. As a young coach, I can remember being intimidated by parents. It seems obvious that young coaches may be fearful of having to manage people of an older generation with more “life experience”, important jobs and who frankly sometimes don’t have the greatest reputation for behaving well in a sporting environment.
The fear can be diminished if coaches have some clear strategies for engaging with parents. Working With Parents In Sport promotes the need for coaches to actively engage with parents and provides some fantastic strategies for doing this. I wish that information like this had been available much earlier in my coaching career! Check out the Working With Parents In Sport website HERE.
If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.
Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.