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Community QA

Helping a Student Hold a Coach Accountable

To help more of our readers with their crucial conversations, accountability discussions, and behavior change challenges, we introduced the Community Q&A column! Please share your answers to this reader’s question in the comments below.

Dear Crucial Skills,

Our high school uses a model that requires the student-athlete to lead discussions as issues arise with the coach of their respective sport.

We currently have a situation where a student-athlete asks their coach what they can do to improve and get more playing time. The only recommendation the coach has given is: “Keep working hard. It will be fine.” What can a student-athlete say to a coach who seems too general in their feedback?


Stuck in the Middle

8 thoughts on “Helping a Student Hold a Coach Accountable”

  1. Shape the conversation by asking leading questions such as, “what skills should I focus on to best compliment the team in game situations?” or “which skills would you say are my strengths and which skills should I build upon to better match up against our upcoming opponents?” Plant the seed in the coach’s thoughts of your desire to be a productive member of the team, of the particular skills that you currently have to offer, and how strategically your talents match-up against the challenges ahead.

  2. Sometimes being a student Coach can be overwhelming with outside pressure. Every parent thinks that their child is the best and needs more playing time and this might just be a “safe” response for the Coach.
    My suggestion would be to address the Coach a bit more directly. Something like, ” Coach, I really enjoy playing and seem to do a good job for you and the team. I’m really looking to improve my skills, do you see a specific skill that I should be concentrating on to bring up my level of performance?”
    This would show the Coach that the student-athlete is really driven to improve his skills and has a real stake in the game, not just wanting to be on the field to impress someone.

  3. What a tough situation! STATE and Contrasting skills come to mind as things to employ:
    For example, the student could respond to that general feedback with something like, “I noticed that last 2 times I’ve asked for your feedback, you’ve told me to just keep working hard and everything will work out. At the same time, I’m sensing that I’ve hit a plateau in my skill level and don’t seem to be getting additional playing time. I’m wondering if you really do have concerns with me as a player. I don’t want you to be concerned with my reaction; I do want to implement one specific thing that you think I can do differently to increase my playing time. Can you share your perspective with me?”

    Best of luck to the student-athlete!

  4. irst, take a look at your own work and skill set. Are you attending all practices and any extra skills sessions? Are you truly giving it your all? Do your skills contribute to what the team needs? What are your goals? What goals do you and the coach share, such as success of the team?

    With these things in mind, share the facts with your coach. Explain what you’ve done to improve, then point out how much time you’ve been allowed to play in the past versus how much time you think you should be allowed to play.

    After you explain the difference between what’s actually happening and your expectations, let the coach know that you’re open to his/her constructive criticism (and make sure you actually are!). Like Brian and J.G. suggest above, asking more specific questions may help the coach understand they type of feedback you are looking for.

    If the coach continues to speak generally rather than provide specific suggestions, and there is still a gap between your expectation and what’s actually happening, you can try addressing the relationship. You are looking for more guidance from your coach that you trust to help you grow as an athlete, and by not providing that guidance, your trust is weakened.

    Good luck!

  5. As a 35+ year sport coaching vet, who also teaches coaches how to coach, I would recommend that the student-athlete ask the coach for one-on-one feedback and development meetings with their coach that includes goal setting. Sport requires athletes who have technical skills in addition to fitness, strategy and tactics knowledge and ability. The athletes need specific individual development plans and goals that they can work on outside of the team practices. What does ‘working hard mean’? The student-athletes need to have individual goals to strive for, in addition to team goals. This sounds like a team sport, which means that the coach needs to develop the individuals since the team’s success rides on the ability of the weakest athlete.

  6. The better the questions asked, the better the answers/feedback received! Be specific in what you ask. Let us assume this is a basketball coach. I use a three question approach when seeking assistance from others. If you ask, “What do I do well when I am on defense? What can I improve upon when on defense? (not doing well) What suggestions do you have for me to work on to improve my defense skills?” You could ask, “Who has the skills I need and would be capable of helping me?” Get it? In essence, Questions are the answer!

  7. Have played sports, been on the bench a lot in my grade school and junior high years and been cut from a team in which I felt I was one of the better players and then became a starter and star performer in high school and college and have had the same conversations with coaches (back in the days when it wasn’t very popular to voice your opinion), I now recognize the problem is the vailed request for more playing time. Everyone is looking for more playing time except the starters and some of them may be looking for more time also if they don’t usually play every minute of the game (which most don’t). Many players, hopefully all of them, are working on aspects of their game in order to get better and/or help the team.

    With the pressure on coaches today by more outspoken players, parents, fans, school administrators, and the surrounding community they often give the generalized response to help reduce the pressure of giving a response that they understand they may not be able to comply with later. No doubt some have not learned a better technique for responding in these situations. No doubt the coach should be able to tell the player areas in which the player can improve and he should also tell the player that working on them will not guarantee playing time but will help the player and the team improve (via practices, etc.) that may possibly lead to the coach calling on that player in game situations or giving him more playing time.

    As has been mentioned above the player can learn to ask more pointed questions and simply find areas to work on (by studying his skills and play against others, ask other players, mentors, etc.)that will help him improve.and contribute to the team whether he gets more playing time or not. In my case this method resulted in me eventually getting much more playing time, though under other head coaches at a higher level, and I often noticed that it worked for others players. Though many players will have to get used to the fact that this process won’t lead to more playing time but will help their team be the best they can help it be and will help the player’s overall development in the game of life in a way that will immensely benefit him in the long run.

    I hope this helps.

  8. OK.. My Daughter has been with the same coach for Junior High sports through now what is her High School Sport and eventually will be her college sport. She is exceptional at her sport, so much so that as a Freshman in High School she was offered a full scholarship to play college ball. Her coach has always seemed harder on her and unwilling to discuss any part of the game. When she asks questions or for changes that could help her performance she is met with “do your job.” it has become obvious to her that the coach in her opinion does not like her. She has a bit of an activist streak and has had some situations where she has stood up for others that may have created a rift between her and the coach. Playing time is not an issue, but mutual respect and communication have become non existent. I don’t want to intervene as a parent and want her to have the skills to deal with it. What do you recommend?

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