3 Olympic Games...2 gold medals...1 fabulous youth coaching philosophy
By Greg Bach
These days young athletes want results – and they want them fast.
It’s a difficult concept for many to get their arms around, and for coaches to teach, that the route to success is often slow.
And requires lots of patience.
One of the world’s fastest women had to learn this exact same lesson during her teen years, which ultimately led to three Olympic Games, two Olympic gold medals, and one terrific philosophy for working with young athletes.
“Young athletes are not robots,” says former Olympic great Monique Henderson, the head women’s track and field and cross country coach at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif. “I remind them that every day that they are out there is a positive day and another day toward reaching their goals. Every day is a day of improvement.”
It’s a great approach for coaches of all youth sports to take with their teams. Frame those conversations around each day being an opportunity to take another positive step in that season-long journey to improvement and development.
“When they kind of think about it that way, and we kind of break it down into smaller steps and smaller successes, they get motivated and buy into it,” Henderson says.
FIND FUN IN THE CHALLENGE
Henderson is a strong proponent of keeping that fun element woven throughout practice at not only the younger age levels, but even at her elite level of competition, too.
“I started running when I was five and I ran track every year of my life for 20 years because I found it fun,” she says. “And a lot of that was because of my coaches growing up – they made it fun. Making it fun is teaching athletes how to challenge themselves and making them aware of the progress they are making every day – and giving them positive feedback.”
FOCUS ON YOU
“When you line up on the track and you have eight other people there, only one of those nine people in the race is going to win,” Henderson notes. “So you have to figure out and find out why you enjoy what you are doing and then be motivated for yourself. You have to recognize that you might not win but focus on what it is that you are trying to accomplish because that’s what it’s really about.”
That’s the message her coaches delivered to her early on in her career, which helped carve the mindset she needed to blend with her natural ability and work ethic to produce the amazing results she achieved.
“When my coaches told me that it kind of put things in perspective for me,” she says. “It started back in middle school and then also in high school with learning how to cope with those competitions because those were big pressure competitions. So, it was about learning how to navigate through that at a younger age and then just learning how to focus on yourself.”
SAVOR EVERY STEP OF PROGRESS
When athletes are taught to see their steady progress from practice to practice or from meet to meet, that helps drive them to continue putting in the work required to keep that progress climbing like a hot stock.
“Every day doesn’t have to be getting ready for high-pressure competition,” Henderson says. “But every day can be a day that each athlete can get better and have a really fun sporting experience. So I would encourage coaches to focus on those things. It doesn’t matter how talented they are, or what their skills are, everyone has an opportunity to improve. I just enjoy seeing their faces when they achieve something that they might not have believed they could achieve but I could see that they could do it. It’s that moment when they just see their time or see their performance and they are so grateful and so thankful and so excited, and that to me is just so rewarding and why I’m in coaching.”
WELCOME PERSONAL CHALLENGES
Henderson got hooked on track watching her older sister run, and couldn’t wait until she was old enough to get out there and compete, too. “I always just wanted to be a part of it and I loved it from the beginning,” she says.
She found the individual aspects of the sport fascinating, as she had to rely on herself to perform during meets.
“I just like the personal challenge,” she says. “Track is so cool because it is 100 percent what you put into it is what you get out of it. So seeing the progress that I was making by working hard just motivated me to continue to work hard; it made me buy into the program that my coaches were giving me; and it made goal setting fun because I knew if I chipped away at it every day I knew I would be that much closer to my goals. So, every season going in and setting goals and then seeing the progress toward that goal always kept me motivated.”
Olympic gold medalist Misty Hyman on empowering and inspiring young athletes
Antonio Pierce, Super Bowl champion and linebackers coach at Arizona State, on pinpointing motives and inspiring young athletes to be their best
Ole Miss sports psychologist Dr. Josie Nicholson on helping your young athletes deliver positive messages to themselves to perform at their best
Reinforcing effort, coupled with a heavy dose of encouraging words, can help young athletes enjoy productive and rewarding seasons