JANUARY 2006
IMPROVING THE COACH - PLAYER RELATIONSHIP
By Steve Jensen

The primary responsibilities of coaches are to coach and develop their players to the best of their abilities. The relationship ideally should work both ways. Athletes are responsible for showing reliability and dedication to their team and sport. Coaches have a greater burden to bear because of the potential positive influence they might have on their players.

Helping the athlete and team deal with the pressure, stress and adversity in athletic competition, productively, are among the most important traits any coach can possess. The perceptive coach is aware of how his team reacts to the fear of losing, along with the hostility of competition and how the presence of these factors affect team performance. Keeping expectations realistic while striving for the highest attainable goals and creating pride in a very strong team work ethic helps athletes avoid the feeling of worthlessness and failure when they lose.

What makes for a productive coach-player relationship? According to my experience and research some of the positive reasons for good relationships are:

1.  Adequate individual attention by the  coach to each team member.

2. Continuous positive re- enforcement & encouragement  from the coach.

3.  Educational and productive methods  when critiquing errors and mistakes.

4.  Challenging and motivational practices.

Reasons for poor relationships will include the opposites of the four described above. My 31 years of coaching experience has taught me that athletes are not willing to learn unless the coaches provide the right, fun-filled atmosphere and a feeling that they really care about all the individual athletes. A "positive" atmosphere is considered to be the most important factor in developing a good coach/player relationship. As a coach, creating an effective "positive" atmosphere requires very strong & powerful communication skills.

The communication process between coach and athlete consists of five basic steps:

1.  All coaches have thoughts (ideas, feelings, intentions, expectations, prior experiences) which  need to be conveyed to the team.

2. Those thoughts need to be translated into a message by the coach for appropriate  transmission.

3. The message is clearly transmitted to the team members through some channel either verbally or nonverbal.

4. The athletes receive the message and interpret the meaning.

5. The athletes respond internally to their interpretation of the message.

As a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, I was fortunate to play for one of the most talented and effective hockey coaches in U.S. history, “Badger” Bob Johnson.

During our six month training stint preparing for the Olympic Games in Innsbruck , Austria , I learned a very valuable motivational slogan from Coach Johnson. He would start each day of training with his famous motto, "It’s a Great Day for Hockey". Thirty years later, I still find this slogan to be inspiring and it is a creed that I adhere to daily to motivate the kids attending the Heartland Hockey Camp.

As the Co-Head Coach of Florida Gulf Coast University hockey team, Steve also owns and operates the highly-regarded Heartland Hockey Camp in Deerwood, Minnesota.   Steve played 439 games in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota North Stars. He was also the leading scorer for the 1976 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

For more information on the camps, visit www.heartlandhockey.com    or email Steve at: steve@heartlandhockey.com.

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