Connecting with a New Athlete

  • September 10, 2015


Some thoughts from the By Coach Jessica Cunha

Connecting with a new team or athlete can be difficult, even if you have been coaching for many years.  There are multiple things you don’t know: what coaching style works best for them, how they manage their stress, what their goals are and of course what motivates them to continue participating.

After reflecting on my experiences with my own coaches, I believe that I performed better for the ones that took the time to get to know me as an individual. I knew they cared about me, and as a result, I cared about doing my best for them. Now as a coach, I continuously see the positive impact a strong coach-athlete relationship has on a team or individual; greater cohesion increased trust, and most importantly, respect for one another.

Don’t skip the introduction

Sharing a little about yourself and your coaching style is a great way to help your athletes feel comfortable and build trust. Do tell them how long you have been coaching for but stem away from how many awards and honours you have received. Instead, discuss the expectations you have for them, and what they should expect from you.  This helps resolve assumptions they may have picked up from a previous coach. Finish off with what or who inspired you to begin coaching and why you continue.

Discover your athlete’s goals and motivations

Schedule one- on- one meeting with your athletes either before or after practice. Find out what their goals are for the season and how they want to accomplish them. Now is a good time to ask about what motivates them and why they are passionate about their sport. Be open to feedback and end with asking what you can do for them.

Have Fun!

Focusing on the fun in the first few practices allows athletes to feel comfortable being themselves and reduce the stress of meeting a new team or coach. Your role as a coach carries a certain authority, but too much formality creates distance. Allow yourself to interact with your athletes on a level that goes beyond watching them execute skills in drills. Consider joining the end of a practice scrimmage, a fun obstacle course, or participate in the team led warm-up or cool down.

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Coach Responses

 As a Coach, how do you go about connecting with a New Team or Athlete?

Share your tips and best practices!

Coach  Sean  Ferguson  ChPC,  RGP  –  Swimming  –  Waterloo  –  19  Years

“As a coach, I think it’s important not to go in with bravado and expect people to like you just because you have “x” years of coaching or experience doing this or that. I’d suggest a more humble approach by showing your vulnerable side and letting the athletes or new team get to know you by way of interactive, fun, and silly activities to introduce one another.

When you are humble in your approach and allow the athletes to teach/coach you in those activities, you might find that your ways will encourage and bring forth the participant’s leadership styles and abilities…which hopefully, benefit the team environment down the road and allows for a cooperative atmosphere.”

Coach  Amanda  Miles  –  Basketball  –  Markham  –  10+  Years

“Adding new players is always tricky, I make sure I talk with them ahead of time let them know how things were the last season and what is expected. I also take extra time to get to know them so that they don’t feel that I don’t value them as much. I also warn them that I will be on them more because I am getting to know them still so I want to see how much I can push them.”

Coach  Leilani  Torres  –  Synchronized  Swimming  –  San  Juan  –  8  Years

“When I coach synchronized swimming, being such a technical sport, I would tell the athletes not only their corrections but also how to fix them. They learn to appreciate me through the feedback I can give them.

It’s not so fun at the moment, but when we aren’t training we can joke around.

I believe it’s important to have a balance. When it’s time to train, let’s focus on that and when its time to have fun, let’s not worry about anything else. Balance is key in a Coach-Athlete relationship.”

Coach  Carolyn  Horner  –  Equestrian  –  Mt  Albert  –  16  Years

“As an equestrian coach when I meet a new rider-horse combination I am really meeting two athletes who speak a different language. I introduce myself and then let the rider tell me about their riding background and their goals. I ask them about their horse and any concerns they may have about their equine partner. I will check that the equipment is safe and properly fitted to both rider and horse. I will then ask them to show me how they normally warm up their horse.

Unless I have any safety concerns I try not to make any corrections for the first several minutes. I am just an observer trying to assess the relationship between horse and rider. I don’t want the rider to feel judged because of any tension they have will show up in the horse. I watch the horse’s body language to see how happy he is with the rider’s communication. I then ask the rider to come into me and I discuss the good things that I saw and a few things that need to be worked on. I invite them to ask questions at any time and to tell me if things I say conflict with what previous coaches have told them.

It can take a bit more time to find out what the equine athlete’s needs are. He may need changes to his diet or the amount of time he spends outside. He may need changes to the equipment that the rider is using. It is very important that the horse is a happy and relaxed athlete to perform the tasks his rider expects of him. It is also important to make any changes gradually.”

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