You may have been a coach for many years, but to this team, you’re the “new coach.”
They could have just started playing the game, or perhaps they’re now old enough to start your program. Either way, they are sizing you up the same way you’re sizing them up.
Getting players on your team to respect you as their new coach takes work, but these tips will make it easier.
Aim to motivate, not intimidate
There are coaches out there who believe in setting an authoritative tone right from the beginning, even going so far as to make early practices brutally difficult, so players “know who’s boss.” These are fear-based tactics, or motivation through intimidation. Players will work and play harder to avoid pain (running laps, doing push-ups, etc.) or humiliation (getting yelled at, particularly in front of peers).
Among the problems with fear-based motivation is that players are unlikely to give you more than the minimum effort required to avoid negative consequences. In contrast, athletes motivated through positive reinforcement will continually strive to elevate their performance. They will give you everything they have and dig deeper than they knew they could.
Coach the person, not just the athlete
Get to know more about your athletes off the field or court. It is important for young athletes to know a coach cares about them as a person, not just as a player. Respect develops within relationships, so connecting with your players helps them see you as a person they can trust, rely on, and come to if they need help.
Coaches who are disconnected from their players can be great at teaching skills, devising tactics, and leading winning teams. But when a coach is good at all those things and connects with their athletes on a personal level, then you become more than just a coach, you become a mentor to them outside of sport as well.
Be fair and true to your word
You can’t make everyone happy all the time, nor should you try, but you should be fair. When you set expectations for your team, it’s important for those expectations to apply to all players. The goal isn’t to treat every player the same or give them all equal playing time, but your actions should make it clear that all players have the opportunity to succeed, and that they will all be held similarly accountable for misbehaving, missing practices, etc.
Athletes respect coaches who do what they say they will do, even if that means a negative outcome for them personally. If you tell a player they will start in the next game if they complete specific tasks in practice, and they do it, then that player should be in the starting lineup on game day. Likewise, if you tell your players they won’t start or won’t play in the next game if they miss practice, then you have to stick to that ultimatum, even if it’s your star player who has to sit out.
You don’t need to be a professional coach to exhibit professionalism. Players develop respect for coaches who are organized, on time, polite, and remember people’s names. Your level of professionalism reflects the level of respect you have for the team, their efforts, and yourself. Your players are likely to reciprocate that level of respect.
Win the parents
Parents have a huge influence over a child’s views and feelings, even during the teenage years. Get to know your players’ parents so they’ll be more likely to support you as a coach.
Athletes cannot be expected to respect a person simply because they bear the title of “coach.” We should not expect athletes to automatically respect a coach based on his or her reputation.
Respect is earned day in and day out by the way coaches interact with athletes, peers, and parents.