“Coach thinks I suck,” she states as she kicks some sand around.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I use to be the top athlete on the team, coach use to always look to me. Now I haven’t gotten better and he thinks I suck compared to everyone else. That’s why he doesn’t put me on varsity,” She lowers her head and kicks some more sand.
I look at her for a moment, considering what she just said. I think back to the practices so far that year. During the drills, there are other athletes who are taking it more seriously to improve their skills. She tends to be off to the side, striking up side conversations and not putting in the same time and effort as the other athletes.
“Coach doesn’t think you suck,” I tell her, “He knows you are capable of performing at a greater level, we all do. Your ability isn’t in question, I think maybe you just need to show everyone that you care to get better.”
“Really?” She asks sounding surprise, “Maybe…”
As a coach, what matters more isn’t the natural ability or skill an athlete has, it’s the effort that they put in and out of practice. I would rather play my less skilled, but more hard-working athlete than a more skilled athlete who doesn’t seem to do the work to improve.
Many athletes may feel that a coach is treating them unfairly when they aren’t given enough playing time or placed on the varsity team when they feel their abilities compare to those who are given that chance. If that is the case for you, maybe it’s more than coaches opinion of your ability. Maybe you do have the same ability that the other athletes do, but what else is going on?
Pay attention to the other components that matter to a team and a coach. How is your attitude at practice? Are you upbeat, positive, and encouraging? Or do you complain and sulk around. Consider the work ethic you put into the drills as well. Do you do them halfway and put in limited work, or are you actually focusing on the drill and putting in everything that you have?
Talent doesn’t trump work ethic.
“Hard-work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.”
If you can show a coach that you care about improving, that will go much farther than simply accepting and being ok with the ability that you currently have. Other players will step up their game and eventually you will lose your spot because their improvements will outshine your stagnant abilities.
As coaches, we should also put greater importance on hard-work and improving our skills rather than focusing on those with “natural talent.” This will instill and foster a growth mindset in your athletes, which will boost their self-confidence and encourage them to work harder at honing in their craft. If you focus on natural talent, that willl only encourage a fixed-mindset, which will decrease their efforts and make them believe that they are unable to improve and grow their skills. Don’t you want a team that works hard, believes that they can improve, and strive for getting better every day rather than settling for what skills they already have?
Demonstrate this in and out of practice by praising hard-work and effort, over outcome and abilities. The athletes that keep trying to improve and put in the work to do so are the ones to focus on because they will help set the tone for the team that we don’t settle where we’re at, we always want to improve and get better.