This is an excerpt from Track & Field Coaching Essentials by USA Track & Field.
The coach, by the very nature of the position, is a role model for athletes and a representative of an entire profession and sport. The coach’s dress, behavior, and relationship with others should be professional. Because of the position of authority and responsibility, the coach’s personal life should also be held to high standards.
Coach - Athlete Relationship
A professional boundary must exist between the coach and the athlete, and the coach is responsible for setting that boundary. If physical contact is necessary as part of the coaching process, it must not be interpreted by the athlete or others as anything more than that. When meetings with individual athletes are needed, these meetings should be held in view of others or with an open office door.
No amount of coaching knowledge will guarantee success without a good relationship with the athlete. Athletic competence and confidence rely on a functional, effective coach - athlete relationship. Athletes are unique and need different things from their coaches. Effective coaching involves meeting the needs of every athlete.
The coach - athlete relationship must be professional. The coach should understand that although certain obligations should be met, the nature of the relationship is limited. It is the coach’s role to define the limits of the relationship. Although respect is necessary, the coach and the athlete should not be considered peers.
A coach and an athlete may have a close working relationship, but a certain amount of space should remain between them. This is especially true in situations in which the possibility of inappropriate sexual contact may exist or be presumed to exist. The nature of coaching requires paying much attention to the athlete, but this attention should have limits based on the comfort of the athlete. Moreover, the beginning and ending of the coach - athlete relationship should be a matter of agreement.
The nature of the coach - athlete relationship dictates that the coach place demands on the athlete. These demands should be communicated with respect. When reprimand and criticism are necessary, they should be restricted to the athletic domain and administered professionally, privately, immediately, and tactfully without the use of insulting or personal tones.
Coach’s Relationships With Others
The coach should demonstrate respect and ethical conduct in interactions with officials, other coaches, opponents, and all others in the athletic setting. The coach should exhibit self-control in disagreements and in emotional situations. Public criticism of other coaches, officials, or athletes is inappropriate.
Coach’s Respect for the Rules
The coach should respect the rules and help the athlete develop a respect for the rules as well. Many sets of rules govern any athletic situation. Rules govern not only play, but also participation, eligibility, recruiting, performance-enhancing substances, and other areas. These rules must be respected and followed. When in disagreement, the coach should seek change or protest professionally through the proper channels. Team rules should be simple, easily and fairly enforced, and developed with input from athletes.
The coach should work to develop and maintain competence in the duties athletes expect and deserve from coaches. This section discusses such competencies.
Maintenance of a Safe Environment
It is the coach’s obligation to make the sport as safe as reasonably possible for those participating. Maintaining safe practice and competition environments is the number one responsibility of the coach. Equipment must be safe, properly fit, and legally maintained. Facilities should be well kept. The coach should be versed in adapting the training program when dangerous climatic factors such as excessive heat, excessive cold, lightning, humidity, rain, and snow so dictate.
Injury Prevention and Management
Injury prevention and initial injury care are the responsibilities of the coach. The coach should be capable of providing first aid, and first-aid materials and equipment should be kept at the practice and competition sites. The coach should work with other professionals such as certified trainers, physical therapists, and medical doctors in the areas of injury management and rehabilitation.
Sound and Appropriate Training and Teaching
The coach should understand the demands and techniques of track and field skills and events. Also, the coach should be versed in developing training programs for track and field events and sound teaching progressions for all skills. An understanding of basic sport sciences will help in this process. The training program should be viewed as a planned path to success. Every athlete is at a unique place on that path, and each demonstrates a unique rate of improvement. Testing and competitions provide feedback the coach can use to evaluate the training and the progress of each athlete. At no time should training be used for the purpose of punishment.
Professional Development and Involvement
The coach has an obligation to improve professionally and continually work through available channels for self-improvement. The coach should consider joining professional organizations and taking a role in the activities of the sport’s governing body, USA Track & Field (www.usatf.org). Coaches have a responsibility to assist in developing and improving the sport of track and field, much in the same way they develop their athletes and teams.
Success in coaching requires a significant level of commitment. A person should not enter the coaching profession if a willingness to take the time and expend the effort needed to meet the needs of the athletes is lacking. At the same time, even the most dedicated coach has limited time and resources. A coach should be available for coaching or consulting only to a realistic level of commitment.
Learn more about Track & Field Coaching Essentials.