This morning, when golfing with an 80 year old couple I was frequently reminded of an important coaching strategy. The female in our group had just begun golfing less than one year ago. When she addressed the ball for a shot I stood far away, and cheered loudly- when she made contact. See, at her age and skill level, making contact with the ball and sending it in a positive direction toward the hole seemed to me like a very positive result. (Through 9 holes she had about an 85% contact percentage. That is, she made contact with the ball about 85% of the strokes she took)Now, my cheering and encouragement after a 30 yard drive may have seemed strange to someone outside of our group, but for her 30 yards might as well have been a hole-in-one. This is because when she made full contact with the ball, and exhausted her potential, it went about 30 yards. My cheers for her were based on her own individual skill level and relative ability. If I was comparing her to Michelle Wie, I think I would have been sorely disappointed and extremely frustrated over the nearly 3 hours I spent with her today.
This idea of Relative Ability is something we need to remember as coaches and also as parents. I have seen too many comparisons between professional, or expert level athletes, and High School or even middle school athletes. To some parents and coaches, LeBron James' High School statistics have become the standard for measuring their own athletes, and to me: THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE! For example I have heard things like "If Randy Johnson threw 75 mph as a 10 year old and my son can only throw 45 he has no chance at a college scholarship". I think this statement is absolutely ridiculous, but for some parents this is the standard measurement. I think we need to stop comparing athletes to their peers and instead recognize individual gains, based on individual standards, as an accomplishment. In Strength and Conditioning, we use max testing and individual percentages to asses gains/losses which is easy for us. As sport coaches, you have to know the athletes you are working with and realize their relative abilities and what they are capable of. When you see them make improvements, praise them- even for the smallest details.
I guarantee most of the athletes you are working with are not the next LeBron James, so let's not treat them that way and discourage them away from the sport. I think sport is great for any young individual and would hate to see anyone discontinue participation at a young age because a coach was not receptive to an ahletes needs or did not respect their own individual level of relative ability. You can only perform your best, and this old cliche is really true. Thanks for reading, I've got a great article for everyone to read tomorrow so please come back.