Young sportspeople are sold a dream by their coaches, particularly towards the elite end of the game, with the promise of making it big – but the majority will fail.
No matter what the sport is, youngsters dream of being the very best. Whether that be lifting the football World Cup, winning Wimbledon in tennis, or whatever the top prize is in their sport of choice. Add significant talent into the equation and the invitation to participate in high-level training with the lure of making it into the big leagues and you have all the makings of a big fall.
Cynical? Possibly. Realistic? Absolutely. The harsh reality is that less than 0.1% of youngsters playing in academies will not make it into the professional game. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that that leaves a lot of disappointed boys and girls.
The role of the coach is to develop players so that they are ready for the next level, whatever that looks like, often with little consideration for what happens to those that don’t make the cut. So, how do coaches ensure that players can manage disappointment if/when it comes?
The Hard Reality
Sport has the capability of being just as ugly as it can be beautiful. When a player is let go and/or the realisation comes apparent that they just aren’t going to make it, it’s an immensely difficult time. At a young age, players have to process the reality that everything they have worked so hard for and dedicated themselves to has come to nothing.
There have been countless stories of youngsters’ mental health dwindling off the back of such disappointment. Life for them has changed and having lived in a bubble of sport for so long, the adjustment is harsh. As well as struggling to comprehend the thought that they will have to change their outlook on life, and pursue a new career path, many also battle with feelings of letting down their friends and family.
The Role of the Coach
What role does the coach have to play in all of this, though? Once a player is shown the door their job is over, right? It is, but coaches have a responsibility to develop players not just as players, but also as people.
Even those that do ‘make it’ will experience disappointment and a coach should provide their players with the tools to manage and overcome setbacks – not just in sport, but in life. The best coaches take an interest in the person and the successes they enjoy away from sport.
Sport is about managing defeat as much as enjoying the victories. The same principles apply to dealing with disappointment in life and those qualities and resilience should be instilled by the coach.
What Can Coaches do?
Once a player moves on, they are no longer the responsibility of the coach. The coach can do nothing other than hope that the lessons they have taught them to guide them through life as best as possible.
Good coaches offer nuggets of information that never leaves players. Coaches can offer guidance to players that instil an ethic that will see them succeed whether that is in or out of sport, knowing that when one door closes another opens.