23 Life Lessons Every Sports Coach Will Appreciate

by Tori A.
Trimark Pictures

Being an athlete shaped a huge part of who I am as a person. While my competing days are over, I wanted to share my knowledge and experience as a coach.

I coach incoming high school freshman lacrosse, the perfect age group for a rookie like myself.

There are so many times I wanted to borrow a player’s jersey and get out on the field.

I can’t pass as a 13-year-old and share my on-field experience anymore, but I can tell you coaching has opened my eyes to the game of lacrosse and about myself and life in general.

Here are 23 life lessons every sports coach will appreciate:

1. Offer and accept constructive criticism

As a coach, it’s my job to provide the best instruction possible, especially when bad habits and mistakes are made.

Since I've been coaching younger girls who are just starting to play lacrosse, I quickly realized how valuable constructive criticism is when it comes to improving their skills and boosting their confidence and love for the game.

Always speak and listen with the intent of improving.

2. Tell the good news first

I learned this the hard way as a coach. Once you start rattling off the number of bad passes, turnovers and missed shots, the mind sinks into a state of rejection and everyone stops listening.

Again, deliver criticism constructively, but always share the good news first. You’ll be surprised at how much more responsive people are.

3. There is a positive in every negative

It may not be easy to see at first, but something good always comes out of something bad.

As a coach, I’ve experienced some pretty brutal losses and have seen some God-awful turnovers from my team.

Without them, though, we wouldn’t know what needed practice and how to improve.

4. Overcome adversity

One of our best players was injured and pulled out of an important game. Another was red carded and sidelined.

The team had no choice but to play, despite being down a player and already losing.

Difficult times are bound to happen. Learn how to make the best of them.

5. Lead by example

I’ve talked my team blue in the face before, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it, too. Sometimes, words just aren’t good enough. It’s what you do, not what you say, that matters.

Remember, actions speak louder than words.

6. Early is on time; on time is late

I have a practice schedule I want to stick to. When players are late, not only are they delaying what I want to get done, but they’re also holding up the team.

It’s a matter of respect. If you know you’ll be late to something, let someone know.

7. Practice makes perfect

The most dreaded fear for beginning lacrosse players is using their non-dominant hand. I was scared when I first started, too. The only way I became comfortable using it was by practice.

The only way to be good at anything is by practice. Consistency and good habits are crucial.

8. If you don’t know the answer, say so, then find it

Lacrosse is a sport with many rules, and a lot of them change or update from year-to-year.

So when my girls ask a question I don’t know the answer to, I tell them I don’t have the answer, but I make sure I get it to them.

It’s okay not to know the answers right away, but be curious and inspired enough to find out what they are.

9. Don’t make excuses

My biggest pet peeve is when a player doesn’t own up to a mistake or quickly points the finger at anyone or anything other than herself.

Hold yourself accountable for your decisions and their outcomes.

10. Don’t half-ass anything

Giving less than 100 percent doesn’t fly by me. It literally drives me insane. If a player shows anything less, I yank her ass right off the field.

Be either all in, or all out; there is no in-between.

11. Have a reliable support team

Lacrosse is a team sport. The girls need to know they can depend on each other on and off the field.

As a coach, I need to recognize the weakest and strongest links, and how to bridge the gap between the two.

Aside from the game, though, I need to be the backbone of the team.

When skills need to be developed, a high-five needs to be given or a player needs an extra boost of confidence, I’m the one they look to.

Surround yourself with those who make you a better you.

12. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard

So clichéd, but so true.

I have three solid players on my team, and when they get a little chip on their shoulders and decide they don’t need to try as hard, I immediately substitute them off the field with someone who, granted, may not be as good, but will certainly work much harder.

13. Body language speaks, too

Ever been to a lacrosse tournament? It’s as loud as a rock concert. No matter how loud I yell, sometimes the girls just can’t hear me.

Instead of yelling, I’ll clap my hands, which they know means either “let’s go” or “way to go.” I’ll give a thumbs up or a fist pump, which they know means “good work.”

I’ll tap my finger against my brain, which they know means “get your sh*t together and play smarter.” I’ll jump when I’m happy and I’ll cross my arms when I’m pissed.

It’s amazing how well body cues work, and trust me, they’re noticed.

14. Never take anything for granted

In a recent game, we were up by two goals with a few minutes left to play. We got a little cocky and very lazy, and we turned the ball over once too many times.

Instead of a win, we ended up with a tie.

We settled into a complacent state of mind, and failed to recognize how quickly we could lose what we worked so hard for.

Appreciate what you have, no matter how big or small, because as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

15. Prioritize your priorities

My schedule gets pretty tight during lacrosse season. Balancing my coaching schedule along with my regular work schedule is enough to keep me busy.

My free time is precious, so I make sure I occupy it with people, things and activities I love.

Make time for what matters to you.

16. Be better than yesterday’s you

The weakest player on my team is absolutely petrified of scrimmaging the older girls.

She once asked five times during a practice if we were still playing against them, to which I finally asked why she was so afraid.

“They’re better than me,” was her response. She’s 100 percent right; they are much better than her. But I refused to let her back down.

“Rachel, how many arms and legs do you have? How many arms and legs do they have? The same amount, right? Only difference is your mindset. So get out on the freaking field, get out of your head and stop being scared.”

I live for competition, but when it comes down to it, the only person you should strive to be better than is who you were yesterday.

17. Try new things

“I tried a behind-the-back shot once, and I f*cked up so bad, I swore I’d never do it again.”

I tell that to my players every time they say they “can’t” do something, especially something new, different and out of their comfort zone.

You never know what you’re capable of, what you enjoy and what you do and don’t like until you try.

18. Voice your opinion, but know when to bite your tongue

Being a coach gets the best of me sometimes. I feel like I’m entitled to say every thought that crosses my mind and just deserve respect. Wrong-o!

Yes, I have an opinion, and yes, I’ll probably share it, but only with the intent of improvement, as stated in number one.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” is a little too passive, at least in my opinion (told you, I’ll speak my mind).

How about this? “If you don’t have anything of value to say, don’t say it at all.”

Just bite your tongue, alright? It’s not the most fun thing in the world, but you can’t erase words you didn’t mean to say.

19. Find positive ways to channel stress

I don’t get flustered very easily. I try to keep my cool, I really do.

But when my team makes stupid mistake after stupid mistake, doesn’t listen to instruction after they’ve been told five times what to do and forgets their freaking jerseys for a game, I need a place to escape and chill out.

You don’t even want to know how many times I almost yelled, “Are you f*cking kidding me?!” across the field.

Yoga, exercise and writing do the trick for me. Find something or somewhere you can go to rid of any stress.

20. Live in the present moment

It’s really easy to get wrapped in thinking about who we’re playing next, what place we’ll finish, how many goals we’ll score and where next week’s tournament is.

When those thoughts cross my mind, though, I have to push them aside and focus on the practice or game at hand.

Teddy Roosevelt said it best:

“Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”

21. Plan ahead, but be spontaneous

Having a game plan for practices and games is an essential part of being a coach. While I may have the best drills or lineup ready to go, sh*t happens.

Players get hurt, it starts raining, the referees call every little thing, you name it.

Be prepared, but sometimes you just need to wing it.

22. Trust your gut

A lot of games could have been won if I just went with my instinct and called another play or made a substitute.

We try so hard to think logically about certain things when our gut tells us something else. Trust that feeling; your instinct is usually right.

23. Celebrate the little things in life

We were losing big time in one game. One of our players was fouled inside the 8-meter area and given a free shot.

Remember when I mentioned how nerve racking it is to use your non-dominant hand when first learning to play? This girl shot and made the goal using her left hand.

I smiled ear to ear. Being proud is an understatement.

I didn’t care how bad we were losing. That tiny little moment of fearlessness deserved the biggest high five.