How many times have your students thrown a pie? Seen you sweat? Seen you doubled over?
For the last 8 years I have been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to coach junior high cross-country at my school. Cross-country is a misunderstood sport. (We don’t just mindlessly run around in a field). I have loved running and cross-country for as long as I can remember and both have brought me so many great memories as a runner and a coach.
As a teacher, I am also blessed in that I have time in the summer to reflect on the past school year and years. After 8 years of coaching I’ve learned a number of lessons about teaching from coaching. I am certain that if I had never coached I’d be less of a teacher.
Kids Want to Be Pushed
Human beings don’t enjoy suffering. Kids are no different.
If you want kids to go beyond themselves (and isn’t that why we teach?) you have to be able to explain why.
This means you better know why.
This topic could be a post all by itself – developing a why. In fact, I did a podcast on developing your “why” you can listen to here.
Not only must have a “why” you need to be able to communicate it to students. This comes from listening to what they care about and blending it with what you know they need to or should reach. Listen to how they talk. Try to put the “why” in their terms. I recommend writing it out in as simple of terms as possible. This doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. Even adults need messages put to them in simple terms.
If you can make your message entertaining in some way even better but start with simplicity.
Kids Are Capable of More Than You Think
I have high expectations for my students in class and cross-country.
But I am still often blown away at some of the things I’ve seen students accomplish. I take notes on these accomplishments and then share these with future students and runners. This causes a snowball effect where kids get inspired by other kids.
I still remember having one young boy who was running over 20 minutes for 2 miles to start our season. This young man was a really quite kid. He didn’t say much but he did say a lot with his actions. You could see him after nearly every practice running extra and you could see on his face that he was determined to improve as a runner.
By the end of the season, he broke 13 minutes for 2 miles and made the state meet in track later in the year.
Truly believe that your kids can accomplish great things. When they know you really believe in them they believe in themselves.
Kids Are Capable of More Than They Think
Seeing a kid’s face after they crush a time goal or learning goal they’ve set for themselves is priceless.
When you set conditions for kids accomplishing great things are in place great things happen. It sounds cheesy but it is true.
Set big goals, focus on the process, and turn kids loose. When they put in the work for an extended time and go beyond what they thought they could do it resets their mindset about what is possible. Remind them that success snowballs. Success in one area of their life can carry over into other areas. This is a growth mindset in action.
Meeting Student’s Families is Priceless
I’ve been incredibly blessed. At restaurants, after meets, I’ve been fortunate enough to sit with the parents of my students and eat meals, talk to them for extended conversations at meets and after practices.
Meeting with parents and hearing more about the family life of your students you quickly learn how busy their lives are and how much they have going on.
You hear about how their older brother or sister is doing that you had in class a few years ago. You hear about the goals and dreams of your students and it touches your heart in a way that is far different than reading it from their class journal.
NEVER underestimate the kindness and power of meeting with and knowing the parents of your students. They are your friends and allies in your mission to push students to their potential.
It’s Good to Show Your Humanity
During our summer running camp we have implemented a “throw the pie at the losing coach” game. The other coach and I love this and I guarantee the kids love it. We just run a practice meet and pick teams and the losing team’s coach gets “pied.”
The kids get to see me in a way they don’t normally see their teachers. I can’t measure it in any way but I know this breaks down some walls that normally exist between kids and adults and students and teachers.
The other coach and I also run with the kids and regularly get beat pretty bad. They see us sweat. They see us doubled over and out of breath on a regular basis. We love it and I am fully convinced it is an overall positive experience for the kids to not only see adults exercising but seeing us pushed to our limits.
Always Be Learning
The first few years as a coach I felt like I was letting the kids down. I doubt any of those kids will ever read this but it broke my heart that as a team we were not accomplishing what we wanted to.
We had a number of meets where we left with the last place runner or were the last place team. This stung.
It was the fuel to learn about how to improve. We learned how to recruit (a great skill to have), improved our ability to motivate kids when appropriate and deload stress when needed, we learned about studying what worked for other schools, testing new workouts and tracking data, and much more.
All of these lessons made us better coaches and are lessons that I am convinced made me and our other coach better teachers.
How about you? Do you coach? How is it helped your teaching?