Coach Evaluations: The Most Important Thing No One is Doing
As the spring soccer season comes to a close, clubs and coaches are wrapping up all the season-concluding paperwork and administrative necessities. Tryouts have been conducted and next year’s teams formed. End of the year parties are being organized, and the fall practice schedules are being arranged. But now that the summer is here and kids will be left to play on their own, how do they know what to focus on practicing on their own time? Player evaluations, of course! It is shocking how many clubs/coaches/teams do not provide some sort of player evaluation. However, more and more organizations start conducting them every year, which is a good thing. This is an effective way for kids to get constructive feedback on how they can improve. It also helps parents better see the perspective of the coach. However, conducting player evaluations is only limitedly effective. Clubs and coaches who really care about doing their best work will ask for coach evaluations. Talk about a shocking reality: I have never come across any organization that has asked for proper coach evaluations. There is actually one club that I have known to ask for feedback about coaches – but they ask for it from parents. Sure, asking for evaluations from parents is a step in the right direction, but it hardly matters. Parents, for the most part, are not at practice every day, do not hear all the conversations had, and are not being taught or inspired by the coach. What are parents evaluating? The number of e-mails sent? The number of times coach arrived on time? How good coach looked with a tucked-in shirt? In the end, the people who coaches are serving are the players. The players are who matter above all else. It is their opinions that matter. And after all, they are the ones who have experienced every aspect of the coach’s performance on a daily basis throughout the season. Every Player Matters One of the best things I ever did as a coach was asking my college team for feedback about myself and my assistant coaches. We had them fill out a feedback form halfway through the season, which helped us adjust for the rest of the year. The insight was surprising and insightful. One of the most unexpected things we received from many players was that sessions were not hard enough. Given the fact that we were squeezing in 22 games in 9 weeks, we did not want to tire the players by going too hard in training – it was simply a matter of surviving the season without players getting hurt or their legs falling off. However, our guys told us they were feeling good and wanted a couple harder sessions during the week. So we did it, and they enjoyed it, and they played well. At the end of the season, we asked for feedback once again, and everything was positive. They appreciated the adjustment to the sessions, and even more importantly, they felt valued and appreciated for being asked what they thought – no one had ever asked them their opinion before! But it’s not just college level players who are capable or who deserve to be asked for their opinions. Every single player can give us valuable information. Sure, 5-year olds won’t provide an eloquent assessment with detailed suggestions, but they can certainly tell us if they think practices are fun, or if coach is mean. And at that age, what else do players need from the coach? Players Are Honest Especially at young ages, players like to please their coaches. I’ve been challenged on player evaluations by adults who claim that players won’t be candid enough – whether it’s out of fear of hurting coach’s feelings (and suffering consequences for it) or simply wanting to make coach happy by saying only nice things. But this is far from the truth. Firstly, if players aren’t comfortable being honest when giving feedback to coach, that tells us enough already. Coach has not established a sufficient level of trust among the players. To me, that is possibly grounds for dismissal. However, the act of asking for feedback from players alone will establish a stronger level of trust from them. They appreciate that we ask their opinion, and they feel valued because of it. Add this to the fact that most players want to keep getting better, and we have some honest feedback coming our way! The most honest players we will ever get feedback from are the young ones. They don’t yet know how to disguise their words or feelings, and they are unafraid to say what’s on their minds. A few years ago, I received a piece of paper from one of the fathers of a player I coached. I was not his team coach, but he participated in a number of our camps and clinics, during which I coached him. On this piece of paper was the child’s report card of his coaches. The father had asked him to write a report on each of the coaches he had. At the time, he was 8 years old. Here’s what the piece of paper said (names changed except mine): “Coach Rick is funny. Coach Zac is smart. Coach Harry makes me laugh. Coach Donald is boring.” I cracked up when I read the last line (partially because I knew all these things already, and we had been having some trouble with Coach Donald throughout the season). How much more honest can a player be? Needless to say, Coach Donald did not coach at this organization much longer. Evaluations Are the Ultimate Validation The trouble we had been having with Coach Donald was that he was not engaging or effective in his coaching, and he was not open to constructive feedback from his peers and supervisor. He would always insist that he had been coaching a long time and that this situation was simply a matter of being new to the kids, etc. He would explain issues he was having, then when we would give him advice, he would reject it and say that we weren’t watching the entire session anyway so we did not understand the situation fully. To some extent, Donald was right. But he can’t argue when his player says flat-out that “Coach Donald is boring.” That was all the validation we needed to know that our assessment of Donald was right, and it gave him the honest truth that he needed to change something. But it’s not just the negative things that get validated. When I saw my name on that piece of paper, I felt good that this 8-year old said “Coach Zac is smart.” I felt validated. I knew that him saying that I was “smart” meant that he was learning something from me (or at least I’d like to think so) – plus, my mother always told me I was smart, so now I knew she wasn’t just saying that. ;) This report card confirmed our thoughts about ourselves as coaches, and it gave our director more confidence in us. Had we received feedback from all our players, I am certain we would have received a more well-rounded assessment of ourselves. Do You Really Care? As I said before, coaches and clubs who truly care about serving their players and doing their best will ask for feedback of themselves. Even if our organization does not require it of us, there is no reason we cannot ask for an assessment ourselves. It is one of the best ways that we can truly get better. And what do we have to lose? If we are afraid of what our players will say, then we are admitting that we are not doing our best work. Let’s do ourselves a favor and start getting honest feedback to become better coaches. Let’s start getting feedback from our players.
To help you get started, below are three different feedback forms that we use (click images to download):