Coaching players, changing lives
By Greg Bach
P.J. Fleck – the head coach of undefeated Western Michigan – vividly remembers two incidents from his collegiate playing days that have helped define his approach to coaching.
And can be a huge help to you in your volunteer coaching, too.
“I had a wide receivers coach that was yelling at me to catch the ball but never taught me how to catch the ball in terms of why I was dropping it,” Fleck says. “That stuck with me in terms of a negative thing.”
And then there’s this powerfully positive story: “I dropped my first pass ever at Northern Illinois,” Fleck says. “It went right through my hands and the guy went 95 yards all the way down and scored. I’m this true freshman and Joe Novak, the head coach, walked over to me and I’m thinking I’m going to get ripped and he comes over and puts his hand on my shoulder and says, ‘Don’t worry youngster, we’re going to come right back to you.’ And from that day forward those were the two things that have influenced me. One guy was just yelling to say what he said because everyone says that and the other was really working to develop me into a better person and to create that never give up mantra.”
Think about that as you work with your team: Kids know when they have made a mistake or failed to perform as they had hoped.
It hurts. It’s frustrating. And they need a coach that can pull them out of that quicksand of negativity rather than pushing them deeper in the muck.
OPERATING WITH ENERGY AND ENTHUSIASM
Fleck runs high octane practices. You’d have a better chance of hitting the lottery than finding a player standing around during his sessions.
They’re never on the field for more than 90 minutes.
And not a single minute of those is wasted as they’ll run through 115 plays during that span.
It’s an approach that should be embraced at the youth level, too.
Standing around smothers energy and productivity.
“Our coaches have incredible energy and energy is love, and love is everything,” Fleck says. “So we create energy in our practice because we love what we do. It’s pretty amazing to watch how fast it goes and how energetic it is, but that has to be taught – that doesn’t just happen. But I absolutely think that is what you need to do when coaching kids.”
DEALING WITH DROPS
Young players hate making mistakes, and when it comes to the wide receiver position nothing is more troubling for a player than dropping a pass.
So as a coach the last thing you want to do is pile on.
“The biggest thing as a coach is that you learn how to teach and one thing about dropping the football is if you’re pointing out that he’s dropping the football that’s the first mistake you are making,” Fleck says. “No young person likes to make mistakes or drop passes. So it’s dissecting the catch and figuring out why is he dropping them.”
Then you can move forward to help him overcome those miscues.
“I think the biggest thing young people want to know is why,” Fleck says. “If you’re teaching me this why are you teaching it? If you’re making me do this, why are you making me do it? That’s where we start – we always start with the word ‘why.’”
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Antonio Pierce, Super Bowl champion and linebackers coach at Arizona State, on pinpointing motives and inspiring young athletes to be their best
Monique Henderson, Olympic track great and college coach, on chasing improvement one fun-filled step at a time