THE BLOG
09/22/2014 03:35 pm ET | Updated Nov 22, 2014

10 Things I Learned About Teaching From My Kids' Coaches

As a teacher and a parent, I'm always looking for role models on how to do my job better, and some of the best examples I've seen have been my kids' coaches. My children have had the privilege of trying many activities ranging from kung fu to horseback riding, and I love to watch the grace of a skilled coach bringing out their best effort. Here are some tips any teacher can take away from best coaching practices.

  1. They emphasize that team effort is what really counts. Good coaches know they need the whole team to win games and keep morale high, rather than relying on a star player. In the classroom, there are always going to be a few students who excel and know all the answers, but you quickly see the class become passive and disinterested if you only pay attention to those top students. It's important to make sure all students know they are expected to be contributors to the class's success.
  2. They praise more than they criticize. I've noticed that my kids' coaches hand out far more compliments than reprimands, and it's not just a general "great job," but more like, "Your form was excellent in that kick" or "I love the way you remember all the parts of the bridle." When kids feel confident, they are more ready to accept redirection. It may be easier to hand out grades with little feedback or to point out only what needs to be fixed, but after watching coaches, I've realized that my students thrive on pep talks, both individually and as a whole class.
  3. They find a gift or skill in every child. Great coaches set the bar high with ever-increasing expectations, and the kids meet them. They do this by looking at each child as an individual and rewarding that child's skill set. We don't have offense and defense in the classroom, but there are still many ways to utilize kids' particular talents. I can be forgetful, but I know I always have a student who will remember what I was talking about if I get interrupted. I have students who keep me on the ball with class planning by asking what's due two weeks from now. I have students who love to organize my bookshelves and ones who enjoy collecting forms. Some lead discussions and some motivate a group during teamwork. Everyone brings something to the table.
  4. They employ other kids to help coach. Sometimes kids make the best teachers because they are more relatable and use kid-friendly language to explain a concept. I've noticed that kids are awesome at sharing tips on how to review for tests and how to keep organized. Some students are visual, some are auditory, and some are kinesthetic learners. It's like giving kids a whole toolbox of skills to choose from.
  5. They recognize that good sportsmanship is more important than winning the game. Great coaches emphasize the fact that effort counts more than achievement. In the classroom, we are encouraged to promote a growth mindset. For example, instead of saying, "You got all of the answers correct on that test," you might say, "You did a great job of showing all your work for these word problems." Kids who label themselves as poor students (or who have been labeled by others as such) tend to look at a grade as an indicator of who they are as a person. Likewise, strong students are sometimes afraid to try new things because it might show them as a failure.
  6. They explain and repeat. Coaches do not say things once and assume they will be remembered. In fact, you will hear them give the same directions week after week. At any given time, some kids are not listening because they got distracted, some had a bad day and can't take in much more, and some didn't have enough sleep or nutritious food and they're not at their best. By repeating key information, it gives more chances for those kids to remember what they need for success on an assignment.
  7. They warm up and cool down. Coaches never start practice with a new skill. First they follow a warm-up routine and they practice skills that are already familiar before adding new ones. In teaching, we call that scaffolding, where we are adding more onto an already solid base. It takes kids a little bit of transition time to ease into practice or class, and after working at a new skill, they need a little time to decompress at the end as well. A mini-game or other reward after some new skills reinforces the fact that it's fun to try hard and learn new things.
  8. They know when to back off. I've seen coaches let a tired or frustrated kid sit on the sidelines for a few minutes or take a walk around the field to get re-centered. Sometimes a student isn't going to get the most out of class no matter what. I've learned by watching coaches to say, "Okay, you're having a bad day; you can sit this one out, but I'm expecting your best again tomorrow."
  9. They are genuinely happy to see each child. Most years, I have more than a hundred students, and it's easy to lapse into viewing each class as one amorphous group. But great coaches notice who skipped practice or who's not bringing their all and they comment on it. They tell those kids they were missed and offer some encouragement to get back into the game. Sometimes you might be the one person in a child's whole day who notices they need some extra attention.
  10. They use routine to make everyone comfortable. Coaches use predictability to build good habits and ease anxiety about what happens next. We all thrive on routines, but it's even more important for kids, who have less control over their day than we do as adults. Routine helps us build good habits.