By Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS
I estimate that I have been directly coaching youth in some manner for 15,000+ hours and counting; hopefully I have many more years to go. My off time has been devoted to discovering the best systems and methods for my physical education and tennis programs. One day I came to a profound realization that it is not all about having the best system or newest fad, instead it really is about the interpersonal relationship you have with the students you are teaching. In my opinion the relationship is more important than the system. What I mean by that is that even the best methods and systems fail when the teacher cannot find a way to have their knowledge and message resonate with the students. Children are not empty vessels that teachers just fill up with knowledge. Kids are dynamic human beings and if you really want something to stick they have to engage in the teaching and learning process. The old saying, “no one cares what you know, until they know you care” comes to mind.
Some coaches jump on the next best program or piece of equipment and think it will be the solution for everything. Others look to replicate the system and drills other successful people are doing. But when they try to replicate the incredible results they witnessed the results are often disappointing. I know from experience; I have been there and done that. You see it is not the equipment or system that is the problem, these things really could be the best thing since sliced bread, but what really makes it successful is the interrelationship the coach has with the students. The tools and the system are the means but the real magic is in the interaction.
I am not saying that having a system or plan that works for you is not important, it is. You need to have a good base of knowledge and an organized plan of delivery. What I am suggesting to you is stop focusing so much on every detail of the system or chasing new equipment and start focusing on real teaching and coaching which lies in the interpersonal relationships between you and your students.
So the question always comes up, “how do you build this kind of interpersonal relationship between teacher and student?” In my opinion it all starts by earning trust and respect. Notice I said earning. I do not take trust or respect lightly nor do I mix them up with being liked. If you are doing the right things for your students and holding them accountable day in and day out, over time you will earn their trust and respect. You will not always be liked but you will earn their trust and respect. When you have it and open your mouth to teach students listen and are engaged in what you are saying. It is not about them liking you, be very careful not to mix the two up. In fact, one of the sure fire ways to lose trust and respect is to fail to do what you know you should in fear of not being liked. Children, even young children, are very smart. They know when someone is shortchanging them and taking the easy way out. I even think sometimes they test the boundaries just to see if you are willing to call them out. It is like a test just to find out how much you really care. They know you truly care if you will hold them accountable even if it means not being liked. As a wise friend of mine once said to me, “even the wildest stallions want fences.”
So go against the gain and while everyone else is changing to the latest system or buying the latest equipment focus your efforts on earning the trust and respect of your students. Then whatever system you decide to utilize it will be successful because you took the time to develop the real secret to teaching, the interpersonal relationship that allows teaching to occur.
Alex is a Physical Education teacher and operates a tennis & fitness training business in Pittsburgh, PA. You can learn more by visiting his website at www.AlexSlezak.com.