Shouts from the Stands: Character-Based Coaching

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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Kevin Pierce, head swimming coach at Ridley High School. 

Coaches are more than just sports-focused leaders who see their student-athletes a few hours every week. They play a vital role in athletes lives — as role models, as teachers, as someone to talk to and as mentors.

A swim coach’s influence is felt well beyond practices and meets and can shape their student-athletes lives. That’s why it’s vital that coaches understand their impact and use it to foster a positive learning experience both in and out of the pool.

Character-based coaches provide and create important life lessons into their programs, with less of a spotlight on the concept of winning and losing. A character coach emphasizes the importance of the journey rather than the first place medal, successfully balancing both. The results in real life surpass the results on the scoreboard.

Inspiring Positive Change in Your Student-Athlete’s Life

One of life’s most crucial lessons is the concept of self-improvement. It’s within the coach’s power to help student-athletes to be willing to devote themselves to positive change. This isn’t just about improving athletic skills — it spills over to character change as well.

Coaches who use positive reinforcement lead to student-athletes who are more likely to be open to constructive criticism and suggestions for self improvement both in the pool and the classroom. Student-athletes whose coaches focus on their weaknesses are less willing to make a permanent behavior change.

Positive reinforcement helps student-athletes realize their strengths and weaknesses and how to improve upon them, an important skill in school, work and interpersonal relationships.

Create a Team First Mindset

Coaches coach teams, not just players. A team first attitude — whatever is best for the team is what’s best for me — has plenty of positive and lasting effects on character development in young student-athletes.

But it’s not just about being a team player. The sense of inclusion and belonging motivates student-athletes to do their best. It’s up to the coaches to create situations that allow student-athletes to develop imperative communication skills. In fact, students who play sports are less likely to develop social anxiety.

Inspire Confidence in Your Student Athletes

Poor self-esteem is destructive, especially for teenagers. Anxiety, stress, loneliness and even depression are just some of the symptoms associated with lack of self-esteem. Character building coaches help players become aware their potential, inspiring positive self-esteem.

Through the sport of swimming, student-athletes have the chance to develop both self-confidence and emotional control. This pushes those student-athletes to believe in themselves and try new things, both in the present and in the future.

Moral Guidance in Tough Situations

What if someone on the other team portrays unsportsmanlike conduct? A character coach shows athletes that retaliating isn’t the right answer at any time. Rising above and doing the right thing is the way to go each and every time. This should be an expectation of a character coaches program.

These lessons translate to the real world, too. Instead of lowering themselves to the levels of their peers who show bad sportsmanship or attitudes, student-athletes will hopefully remember the lessons they learned from their coach and their time in the program and take the high road. This will help student-athletes long after they are done participating in sports.

Emphasize the Importance of Hard Work

Character coaches know that there’s more than just swimming in a meet. More important than the meet is the preparation for the meet. Successful student-athletes must put in a lot of hard work during practices and the offseason. Game time is all the time, and student-athletes must strive to be their best out of the pool just as much as in the pool. Learning this habit of hard work spans to other aspects of the student-athletes’ lives — a lesson that improves character for years to come.

Wanting your team to win is normal. But, those who value positive development over winning provide student athletes with a better chance of succeeding in life than those who make winning their only goal.

About Kevin Pierce

Kevin Pierce has been has been the Head Coach of both the boys and girls swimming teams at Ridley High School since the 2015-2016 season. Pierce brings over 17 years of coaching experience at the high school, club and college level to the Green Raiders. Pierce has had previous stints coaching at Cabrini University and the Ridley YMCA and has coached swimmers to the PIAA Championships and YMCA Nationals. The Ridley Girls Swim Team has been named NISCA Academic Team Scholars the past five years in a row.

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Amazing insightful article – well done.

Andrew Beggs

Great article Kev!

Jim Richardson

This works in the “real world”: Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win by Dr. Fred Kiel. This is a research-based book on the effect of high character leaders in business. Another excellent book: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. You can find great resources at the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan –

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