It's hard to talk in generalities about coaches since we're all individuals with different habits, characteristics, and strengths, but given the number of roller derby coaches I have had the pleasure of meeting and the challenges that I've heard from skaters, here are five myths about coaches that may help the way you relate to yours.
1. They don't care what you think
Coaches need to be confident. Otherwise people won't listen to them.
"Hey guys, I was thinking that you might want to...well you don't have to but I just thought you could...or not...it's okay I'll just be over here."
Yeaaaah, that won't work. But don't mistake confidence for dictatorship. Your coaches probably spend a lot of time outside of practice obsessing over how plays are working, where the team's strengths are, what they're going to try next. Your feedback can be really helpful in that process. "My line has been having a lot of trouble executing that play we learned last week." That kind of input can be extremely insightful for your coach to understand why things might not be clicking and how to get you there.
Just be mindful, there's a time, a place, and definitely a tone to use when asking questions. Show respect and curiosity and the question should be well received. I am totally open to questions at practice because chances are pretty high that someone else has the same one. If we're learning a new play, I ask that people just ask clarifying questions but stay open minded about challenging what they're learning. Sometimes it may take a little while to see what your coach has been fantasizing about over their Froot Loops so give it a chance. It may also take some adjustments to make it work for your team.
Coaches do care what you think; you're all integral members of the team and have an impact on its health. I had a player chat with me the other day and say "I'm thinking of leaving my team, I'm not being challenged." I asked if they'd talked to their coach about being challenged more and the answer was no. As clairvoyant as we try to be, sometimes we don't know what's going on with you so try to keep the dialog open because we can't fix what we don't know about. And yes, we want to fix it.
2. Coaches just like to boss people around
In reality, coaches liked to be listened to. It's not about a power trip, it's about making you better. If you're given feedback, it's not for the coach's benefit, it's for you, to improve you as a skater, player, teammate. If they're also a player, they probably want you to be just as good as them, if not better. I find it so rewarding to see how fast skaters improve now that they have people invested in their development. Given the age of the sport, many of us had to teach ourselves and it took forever.
A lot of players make the mistake of perceiving feedback as criticism. The problem in receiving feedback that way is that it makes you immediately defensive and closed to any words that follow. The other impact of consistently reacting that way to a coach's feedback is that they'll stop giving it. Remember? Coaches like to be listened to.
Your ability to respond positively to feedback is called coachability. If you find you struggle with this, try to remember that something you're doing was worth noticing. If your coach didn't think you were capable or worth the effort, they would just let it be. They've been given the job of making a team better and they see you fitting in to that beautiful puzzle.
3. Coaches are born amazing
All coaches are born to athletic families. They are sung lullabies about footwork and dream about burpies. Um...no. In the young sport of derby, coaches often end up being a player that has picked things up a little faster than others, a significant other who wants to support the team, or someone who brings in experience from a similar sport. If you are lucky enough to have someone who is willing to invest time in making your league or team better, show them some love and give them the room to grow as a coach.
I act as my team's A in games. I can't tell you how many times I'd use our official reviews for silly non strategic things before I learned how powerful they can be when used properly. I remember a Slaughter Squad game featuring Jess Bandit (New Skids player and head coach of the Mont Royals and Team Canada) where she made a challenge that left me feeling like I'd been hit by a bus and what felt like half my team in the box. "How did she even know you could do that?" I thought. Well, experience. She knows a ton and playing against them has made me a better coach for my team.
Your coach is going to make some good calls and they're going to make some bad calls, but what's important is that the same way they support you, you need to let them learn from those mistakes. Coaches need to make split second decisions just like you as players do out on the track. A very wise boss once told me that it's better to make a decision and be right 80% of the time than to never make a decision at all. If you start questioning your coach's calls, they're going to stop making them. A confident coach is a more effective leader.
4. Coaches MUST be good at everything
Here are only some of the "hats" that a coach may have to wear:
- Skills superhero
- Strategy specialist
- Rules aficionado
- Motivational Speaker
- Air traffic controller
- Cat herder
That's a lot of skills, and it's really hard to be good at everything. The best coaches that I've known play on their strengths and ask for help with their weaknesses. For example, they might lean on the team captain for motivational help with the team. Because, your coach doesn't need to be the best at everything, they just need to be able to earn your respect. What's important though is that you recognize your coach is human, and maybe instead of judging them for their weaknesses, offer to support them with your own strengths. If you're a skilled skater, then offer to demo something the coach is trying to explain, lots of people are visual learners. If you're a rules nerd, then shore up your coach by explaining to the team where the boundaries are of a new play between legal and not. Coaches don't have to be the best at everything, they just have to figure out how to effectively make you the best player you can be.
5. All coaches know they're awesome
Again, just because a coach is confident doesn't mean they know what they're doing is working for you. The MRDA team that I coach, the Ottawa Slaughter Squad, has this really delightful habit of thanking their coaches after every practice. It's not automatic, and It doesn't come from every skater, but I tend to think that if I get one thanks from a skater, it's meant that something I did pushed them and made them better.
If a coach has made a difference for you then take a moment to tell them. You have no idea how far a little acknowledgement goes. It also helps to build strong relationships so that when times do get a little tough, you're more likely to be able to talk to one another openly and get things resolved.
Dawn Cherry has been a roller derby coach for 5 years and when she's not inventing defensive plays in her sleep or watching games under the table at family dinners, she's either coaching the Ottawa Slaughter Squad or running Neon Skates.