It can be said that it is those we have in our lives that mold and shape us into the human beings we become. I fortunately have been graced by the presence of two amazing women who have made me into the coach I am today. My #ThankfulThursday this week is going out to the two best coaches that I know.
The first, obviously, is my high school dance coach, Angela Ottmann. She scooped me up from the wreck I was as a little freshman in high school, took me under her wing, taught me classiness, professionalism, the importance of setting goals and writing thank you cards, work ethic, introduced me to yoga, forced me to have good grades and be involved in school activities, and is the reason I am the person I am today. I can never thank her enough for her influence.
The second is Nicole Gambatese, the now-retired cheer coach at the high school I work at. I got hired as the new dance coach, sent Nicole an e-mail, and walked into her classroom the next day, with a notepad of questions to ask her. She gave me uniform vendors, game day information, her handbook, advice on how to handle parents. She has sat with me through meetings, counseled me with my athletes, and is always there to celebrate a win (or grieve a loss).
I never quite understood the impact a single coach has on the success of a team until I started coaching my own. It is true; a team reflects the personality of it’s coach. Perhaps the BEST compliment I ever received was from Ange this summer, when someone told me, “Your dance team is just a bunch of little happy-go-lucky Britany’s running around”.
Both Angela and Nicole, who although have similar coaching philosophies, have offered me two very different styles of coaching to learn from. Among many lessons, from Angela, I learned to how to look put together, that I needed to keep my social media page clean, the types of connections I need, and from Nicole, I learned how to handle discipline issues, how to establish practice norms, and how to treat dancers as athletes. So, what makes a good coach?
Good coaches always model good behavior: It’s one thing to expect your athletes to clean up their social media pages, and another thing to do that yourself. Good coaches hold themselves to high standards, and model the same behavior they expect of their athletes. They show up on time, and prepared. They refrain from their own public displays of affection, dress appropriately, treat other people with respect and compassion, stay off their cellphones. They hold the doors open, stand last in the buffet line, exercise good manners. They win with dignity, and lose with dignity. They model good behavior at school, at practice, at performances, when they are in the grocery store, at the gym. Ange always taught us that, when we win, we win, but we don’t celebrate excessively, and when we lose, we lose with class. This year, we can all agree that Nicole’s team got robbed at state. However, she made each of her girls still get up, congratulate the winning team, and she, herself, did the same. As social learning theory suggests, we learn best through observation, and good coaches know that nothing is more detrimental to an athlete’s already-sensitive schemas than finding out their coach is hypocritical.
Good coaches know it’s not about them: You know the mark of a good coach when they are given the most prestigious award, and have a really difficult time accepting it, because they don’t believe they are worthy of it (although the rest of us know they are MORE than worthy). But it is humility that makes a good coach, because a good coach does good things, not for themselves or to gain recognition, but rather for the betterment of their athletes, and of humanity. We dote our athletes with attention, make them feel special, put together surprises and dinners and bondings for them, drive them places, and then send them off into the world, hoping that someday, they will return those same feelings to someone else someday. Angela is perhaps one of the most decorated poms coaches in Colorado history, and Nicole one of the most celebrated cheer coaches, and when you walk up to them in person, you would never know that they have built these legendary spirit dynasties, because they are humble, honorable, hardworking.
Good coaches take things personally: We know that we should never take anything personally. Especially in the spirit world, so much is up to interpretation and subjectivity that winning a state championship, or placing 10th, could really have nothing to do with your performance, and all about who won last year, what your concept is, who you know. Of course, there are times we all agree that one team should win, and then there are plenty of other times when we all disagree. At these moments, when a good coach feels an injustice is caused, they take it personally, not because they feel a wrong has been done to them, but that a wrong has been committed to their athletes. As a coach, you know that placings don’t necessarily mean anything, but the rest of the world doesn’t always get that, especially your athletes. Watching your athletes suffer from disappointment is perhaps the most devastating thing in the world, and you can always tell how the stroke of a good coach when they take these things personally.
Good coaches keep people out of it: Many will agree that the worst part of coaching is dealing with the drama. The average spirit coach in Colorado lasts 2.5 years. The famous closing line is, “If I could just show up and coach, and not deal with any of the BS, I would keep doing it”. Anytime you are dealing with people, you are dealing with problems, whether those be external problems (such as family emergencies), or internal issues (such as people attacking other people). But, a good coach knows that this drama cannot be brought into the practice arena, it’s not appropriate to talk about in front of others, and so, despite the emotional turmoil they, themselves, are undergoing, they still show up, check it at the door, and keep people out of it. There were certainly things going on in my life that Ange knew about, and when I showed up to practice, I appreciated that no one else knew. And, I know that Nicole coaches in the same way.
Good coaches know it’s about something beyond high school: While winning awards and building competitive programs is always fun, good coaches also know that whatever they are doing is prepping their athletes for something bigger. Yes, we come to practice on time, because it’s good for the team, but we also come to practice on time to build punctual habits for when we have a professional career. Yes, we make you wear the same thing, because it’s important we all look like a team, but we also make you wear the same things so you understand that your existence is much greater than just yourself. Yes, we expect you to not touch your boyfriend in the hallway, because it’s not good for our team image, but we also expect you to not touch your boyfriend in order to maintain a respectable image for yourself. Good coaches understand that what we are coaching is not high school, but rather life, and that each of our decisions must be constructed accordingly. Both Ange and Nicole agree that, while poms and cheer are the venue to learn these skills, what’s important is not whether you can do a quad piourette or standing tuck; what is important is that you put 100% effort into learning it, because that will follow you into your future.
I could only hope to someday be half the coach these two women are. Singlehandedly, they are making this world a better place, and we are all so fortunate to be graced with their presence.
“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible”