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Strategies for Developing Great Coach-Player Relationships

Mike Pelino | Sep 19, 2013 9:47:00 AM

This post is from guest blogger and friend, Mike Pelino - an Olympic Gold medal-winning hockey coach, among many other accomplishments. Mike has been a coach for almost 30 years and has coached at all levels from minor hockey to the NHL, and is now in Russia’s KHL where he is an Assistant Coach with Magnitogorsk Metallurg. His coaching bio can be seen at the end of this blog.

Coach Player Relationsip

Players look to their coaches as resources to help them get better and to help them and their teammates attain success. A coach’s responsibility is to provide the guidance and leadership necessary to assist each of his players to develop to their individual full potential. He then must take this group of individuals and orchestrate them into a cohesive and winning unit……helping them grow into champions individually and collectively. A coach does this through what he teaches them, how he teaches them, how he helps prepare, motivate and train them, and how he treats them.

In order for a coach to be as successful as possible in molding his athletes, he must ultimately develop a rapport and a relationship with each and every player. His effectiveness as a coach is very strongly influenced by the relationships he is able to develop with these athletes. The stronger the relationship is, the greater the chance of bringing out each athlete’s potential. In order for an athlete to reach his potential, a coach needs to create an environment and culture where that athlete has an opportunity to flourish. The athlete needs to feel good about himself, and must be instilled with the desire to strive to reach his maximum capabilities. A coach is capable of making that happen with how he treats him, even more so than what and how he teaches and trains him. How a coach treats a player molds his character, helps him earn self-confidence, and drives him to find a passion in what he is doing.

Be sincere in your dealings with your athletes; be honest, build trust, bring energy and enthusiasm with you every day, be positive – no bad days or off days. Show your passion for what you do and for your athletes.  Be respectful - of the game, the opponents, the referees, the rules. Exude confidence in what you are doing, be consistent in your dealings, and be willing to listen. Your players are watching you. They will see how you carry yourself, your deportment, your professionalism, how you treat those around you – your fellow coaches, support staff, parents, fans, media, everyone. Greet your players by name, shake the hands of support staff, chat with parents and fans, make eye contact and nod or greet all levels of staff, smile. This sets the tone for the environment. Your actions and attitude will be reflected back, and you can truly influence the culture of your team and organization. 

From a coaching perspective, do your best to make each practice and each game a destination for your players – a place to which the players look forward to coming, and a place where they leave each day feeling they have learned and improved. You should want your players to experience something they enjoy and something they want to remember every time they are with you. That could come from a private meeting with the player where you discuss his strengths and where you see room for improvement, with specific strategies on how to attain that improvement; or a video training session where you show clips of individuals doing the RIGHT things; but it could also be as simple as a quick compliment during practice or play, or using an individual as a positive example of what you are trying to get across; choosing different individuals for demonstrating or leading warmups or stretches, recognizing effort in workouts, even a pat on the back after a good shift or play. These are all moments the players will take home with them, reflect on, and feel positive about.   

team building baseballBuild a team - put together activities that help players bond together away from the playing or practice field. This could be recreational competitions or fun activities (bowling, touch football, trivia contests, ping pong tourney, etc). Consider identifying a recognition after each game and present the player with some sort of award. (Most Determined Player, Best Effort, etc). If a coach is able to create a positive environment and culture, one in which athletes look forward to being a part of, it will allow them to better learn and grow. 

One thing to realize though is that there will be challenges – challenges with individuals and challenges with the team. At times it will be necessary to push an athlete, either one-on-one or in front of the team. These are teaching moments, and the relationship and rapport you have established with your players will pave the way to making these situations opportunities for effective training and improvement. Be clear with your expectations, be direct and honest with your explanations, and always be respectful of the individual. Your athletes will understand that this is for their own good and for their development, and for the improvement of the team. They should be left with a determination to improve, and with a clear picture of how that can happen. 

Once again, the effectiveness of your interactions with your athletes goes back to the coach-player relationships you have been able to forge. It isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of time and patience, but it is well worth the effort. When an individual knows that his coach cares about him as a person, it will go a long way towards his development as an athlete. 


Mike Pelino

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Mike Pelino has been a hockey coach for almost 30 years and has coached at all levels…..minor hockey, university, major junior, NHL, AHL, high school, women, internationally, adult, and now in Russia’s KHL where he is an Assistant Coach with Magnitogorsk Metallurg. 

In the NHL, Mike was with the New York Rangers coaching staff as an Assistant Coach for 5 seasons, after having served as the Assistant Coach for the Florida Panthers for 1 season.

While coaching for Team Canada, he was a part of 10 gold medal winning teams including the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, the 2003 World Hockey Championships in Finland, the 2004 World Championships in the Czech Republic, the 1997 World Junior Championships in Switzerland, the Under 18 Championship in Canada, and the prestigious Spengler Cup in 2002.

Prior to joining Hockey Canada in 1999, Mike was an assistant coach with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, and served as head coach for 10 seasons at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. While at Brock, Pelino was named Ontario University Athletic Association (OUAA) Coach of the Year three times (1988, 1989, 1995).

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Topics: baseball coaching, coach player relationship, team building

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