Editor’s note: “Coaches Corner” will appear in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel occasionally throughout the winter and spring. If you are interested in submitting a piece for publication, please contact Sports Editor Bill Stewart at 621-5618.

All coaches have the same story: An athlete on the team is failing to pass in homework, not studying for tests and/or being generally disruptive in class.

The teacher, at his or her wit’s end, asks the coach for help. The coach has a blunt and honest conversation with the athlete, who sees the light. The athlete improves his behavior, and while he doesn’t receive an A he does boost his grade up to passing. Astonished, the teacher asks the coach how he managed to convince the student to improve when all other attempts, including calling his parents, had failed.

“Well, if I gave away all my secrets you wouldn’t need me around here any more,” the coach replies evasively.

So what makes kids respect coaches so much?

While some people talk about the good old days when kids really respected their elders, times now are not so different from whenever those good old days happened. Kids come into any season with a certain degree of respect for the coach of the sport. Developing greater respect is something coaches work hard at, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it.

The first and golden rule to develop respect from a team is honesty.

While this may seem like an easy one, honesty can be challenging for a coach, especially in playing-time sports. Athletes who don’t start or receive little playing time invariably approach the coach to ask why. Coaches spend a great deal of time with the athletes on their teams, develop relationships, and typically like the kids they coach. Nothing is harder than being direct and honest with an athlete who is quite simply not as good as other players on the team. This is especially difficult for the favorite of every coach — the kid without much athletic ability who knocks himself out trying. But the honest answer is the one that the athletes end up respecting. They don’t want to be lied to.

Another key? Treating all members of the team fairly. This doesn’t mean that everyone receives the same treatment, though. The athlete who was given a car by his parents and has plenty of money for gas is expected to be on time for practice, every time. But the kid who has to babysit two little brothers and then walk to practice may be given a little leeway for tardiness. This is especially true for the veteran coach with a record of being fair and consistent. The younger coach may not yet have developed enough trust from the team to have that kind of flexibility.

Teams always will respect and trust the coach who places their welfare and long-term development above winning. No coach tries to lose, but there are times when holding an athlete out who is willing to play but is risking a serious injury means the team is not as strong. Sometimes the pressure to win can be crushing, but when athletes know their coach will never put them in a dangerous position, they trust them more. The athlete might voice displeasure, feeling that “being tough” is what’s expected, but almost every kid fears serious injury and is secretly relieved when a coach makes the tough call for him or her.

It’s easy to spot the team who has a respected coach — the athletes compete harder. What’s not always so easy is gaining and keeping that respect. Just as coaches instruct athletes to make tough choices that will better them, coaches must also sometimes make tough choices that will better the team.

Ian Wilson is an English teacher at Waterville Senior High School. He coaches the Waterville girls soccer team as well as the Colby College track and field teams.

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