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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Preparing Your Athletes for the Next Coach

(Note: This piece was originally shared on Strengthcoach.com in March)

A couple years ago I had the opportunity to hear JC Cole of USA Skiing speak at a conference.  One of the lasting points he left was to always give the “next level coach” the best product (athlete) to work with.  As coaches often wrapped in our own worlds it's a necessary reminder to understand our role in the big picture.  We often discuss a horizontally integrated “Team” approach with multiple coaches and providers working simultaneously.  But what's also important is to think vertically about your fellow coaches both at higher levels and at lower levels.   

In some programs, such as a high school program with freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams, in the baseball minor league system, or in certain club sports with multiple age groups, vertical integration is institutional.  It is understood that coaches at lower levels are not solely tasked with winning games (though wins are often a byproduct of doing certain things well) but instead to develop athletes for the next level.  But without institutional continuity, it's incumbent upon the coaches employ the self-awareness to separate their own short term interests from the athletes' long term development.

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Much of the time, interests of all parties will align.  Doing what's best for the athlete long term does not require martyrdom of one's own coaching career.  The challenges come in the subtleties and how fast to progress an athlete.  Maybe you can load more weight on the bar and the athlete won't get hurt, but you could also spend more time refining technique so the athlete reaches the next coach with an even higher performance ceiling.  An athlete may still improve with a heavy competition schedule at their present level, but maybe that detracts from their trainability in the next phase of their career.   

I'm not suggesting that all coaches eschew measureable progress and have their athletes undertrained for competition, but instead to think conceptually of what it would be like to coach that athlete several years ahead, even if you know that someone else will be responsible.  (“Do unto your fellow coaches as you would have them do unto you.”)   It can be a thankless job to drill the fundamentals for others to later reap the benefits of the athlete's achievements at a higher level (often with no credit to the coach that created the foundation).    

Another challenge is turnover, as coaches constantly cycle into new jobs.  Indeed, part of what helps place coaches in new and better jobs is achieving results at lower levels.  The demand for results often creates a tension between doing what is best for the athlete's long term development and getting the measureable results to move up the coaching ranks.   It's only natural that we'd be tempted to seek results that make ourselves look the best. 

Ultimately, your own craftsmanship is reflected in how your athletes conduct themselves and how they demonstrate the fundamentals to others.   Be that coach who hands off a quality product to the next coach up the line, even if quality can't always be measured with PRs.  I know we'd all prefer the athlete with work ethic, fundamentals, and under exploited potential over the athlete with better numbers but an inferior grasp of the basics.   Objective results are important, but handing off a quality product to the next coach ultimately helps the athlete, the team (if within the same program) and ultimately yourself.

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