The #1 Trait for Successful Teachers and Coaches

By September 12, 2014 2 Comments

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What makes a successful teacher or coach? One can create a list with many traits, but I believe there is one that stands out above the rest. That trait is ability to relate. In this week’s post we’ll discuss why the ability to relate is so critical, while providing specific strategies for coaches and teachers to relate to their kids.

Our students and athletes will always remember how we made them feel, much more than any objective or game plan we’ve ever given. The ability to relate to our kids determines the quality of the relationships we have as well as the level of trust that exists. The most successful teachers and coaches are liked and respected by their students and athletes. Now, I’m not saying the sole goal of the teacher or coach is to be liked, but being relatable often is the difference between being effective and being ineffective

I have many post-it notes and flyers around my classroom. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m a big quote guy. One quote I try to remind myself of often is, “If you were 16, what would you think of who you are today?” I believe one the biggest problems a teacher or coach can have is a disconnect with their student athletes. As one’s career lengthens it’s easy to forget the pressures, stress, interests, and hormones that teenagers are dealing with. We just expect them to be mature adults when they’re simply not there yet. Too often we forget just what it’s like to be a teenager and how much we’ve changed since then. Wisdom comes with age, and we are all wiser from the experiences we have. However, we must not become know-it-alls and begin to look down upon our teens. Those that do quickly lose the kids that they should be connecting with.

Kids love and follow those they trust. How do they begin to trust you? By knowing who you are and that you care. Remember, the number one thing they will recall about you is how you treated them and how you made them feel. Another key in relating is to draw upon the vast range of experiences we’ve had in our lives and careers with people from all backgrounds.

Relating to today’s youth becomes more of a challenge the older you get, so here are some suggestions to relate to your students and athletes:

Ways for Coaches to Relate to Their Players

  1. Talk to them outside of practice—Learn about the person, not just the player they are. Coaches must make time for their athletes. It’s important to talk to them informally before and after practices and games. It’s also vital to schedule one-on-one meetings with each player throughout the year. Coaches should make it a point to learn about each player’s interests outside of the sport. You should also be informed about the player’s siblings and parents.
  2. Share your experiences—Make it a point to share what you experienced as a player. Talk to your players about what you liked and disliked as a player growing up. Players love knowing their coach played a sport and are always curious about who we were and what we liked at their age.
  3. Do things together—Make it a priority to spend time together with your players away from the court. Players need to see you in a different element other than “coach mode.” Plan events such as team dinners, bowling night, or movie night, and make sure to bring your family around. A deeper connection exists when your players and family know each other and spend time together.
  4. Make contact—Make it a point each day to give each player acknowledgment. This can be as simple as saying “Hi” in the halls. It should also include giving players high fives and fist bumps before, during, and after practice as encouragement and motivation.

Ways for Teachers to Relate to Their Students

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  1. Talk to them outside of class—Make it a point to find out what interests your students have outside of class. Be out in the halls before school, between classes, and after school. Students relate to teachers who make an effort to talk to them about things other than classwork. Find out what music they listen to, what they watch, their favorite movies, and what they like to do for fun.
  2. Let them know you personally—Don’t build walls between you and your students. Let students know what your interests are outside of school. To their surprise, students will find out you’re not just some nerd who has 20 cats and loves to grade papers while watching Jeopardy. The more they know about you, the more they will like coming to your class.
  3. Make it a point to listen to them—Take the time to listen, really listen to what a student is saying and then offer your personal insight. Let students know they can trust you with whatever may be bothering them by actively listening to them they are talking to you. The more you interact with them, the more they relate to and trust you.
  4. Do your homework—Know what’s cool today. The bottom line is that student’s will not relate to you if you don’t know what to talk to them about. Do your homework and know what’s going in pop culture today. Find out what and who the cool television shows, movies, actors, and musical artists are. Students love teachers who they can talk with these topics about because it puts the teacher on their level.

Teachers, coaches, what did I leave off the lists? What would you add to them?

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!


Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Great post as always, Kyle. It’s all about relationships. I always said that the best teachers/coaches build relationships with their kids. I have known my share of teachers and coaches who knew a ton of material on the subject matter or sport, but they didn’t build relationships with kids, so their kids didn’t learn because they didn’t care. Show interest in them, and watch them grow!

    Here’s a new one that I have just heard/read about. Have you heard of the book “Millenial Method”? It is a really short read. It is by a college baseball coach who addresses how he started to use technology (mainly kids’ cell phones) to start connecting with them even more. Not in a “I text and call my players” way, but in a “Make a video of the lesson/skill that I just taught you that shows you can teach it to someone else” way. Really cool stuff, and another arrow in the quiver for us to relate to and develop relationships with our kids while at the same time making sure they are picking up what we are teaching. Have a great weekend! Scott

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks for the kind words Scott, I appreciate it! I’ve been meaning to touch base with you but have been wrapped up with school work. I have not hear of the “Millenial Method” but it sounds very interesting. I’ll be sure to add that to my list. Thank YOU for all you do to help and encourage athletes and coaches alike, it is much appreciated!

    Have a great weekend!