Caitlin Williams was a powerhouse field hockey goalie at Duke University and went on to become an incredible addition to the coaching staff after she graduated. I was fortunate enough to have Caitlin during the earlier part of my Duke career as well. She now holds the position as Head Field Hockey Coach at Dickinson College.
I reached out to Caitlin about writing a guest blurb, and she kindly jumped at the opportunity to share some insights from a coach’s perspective. As a player myself, I am encouraged by her opinions and there is some meaningful advice to be taken advantage of in this article!
Thanks again, Cait!
“8 things I Wish I Knew Before I Became A College Coach”
1. Let them eat cake.
You don’t want a team full of robots. Create team rules that are necessary for success but don’t place so many restrictions on the team that you limit their ability to make their own decisions. If you build the right team culture you should be able to trust that they know what your expectations are and what is needed of them for the team to be successful.
2. There is no such thing as a day off.
You can’t take a day off from any important relationship in your life, not from your spouse, not from your mother, not even from your dog. You are in a relationship with 25 people and if you develop a meaningful one with each athlete you need to be prepared for that phone to ring at any moment. Even though you may not always want to, when it rings you will ALWAYS answer.
3. Every colleague is a mentor.
Talk to the other coaches in your office, in your conference…and pretty much wherever you can find one. Put the sport you coach aside and in the end we are all working to mold a group of athletes ages 18-22 into a functioning team. You will learn more from the people around you than you will from any book on coaching.
4. Preparation is key, but sometimes the key doesn’t open the door.
It is great to be organized and prepared for everything including practice, games, and every single team meeting. So much time and thought goes into preparation but sometimes you need to throw the practice plan out the window and go with the flow of the team energy. Always have a plan but be quick to recognize when you need to throw it out.
5. Everyone is NOT a winner.
Not every athlete on your team is going to be a stud. Some may never see the field. But if they work hard, stay positive and follow the rules then it is your responsibility to find a purpose for them on your team. They will not be able to put their whole selves into the team unless you give them a reason, if the reason isn’t playing time then make sure you help them to see their value.
6. Recruit the person not the player.
After spending two years recruiting them to your college you now have to spend four years teaching, coaching, mentoring and guiding them. Most of your recruiting efforts should be spent on making sure they are the type of person you want in your program. Will they follow team rules and contribute positively to the team culture? Or will you spend time you don’t have keeping them out of trouble and putting out the fires that pop up around them? Put the work into digging up the dirt before they arrive and you will get the person AND the player that will thrive under your leadership.
7. Buckle up.
You will never understand how high the highs are and how low the lows are until you are buckled into the ride. Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times and embrace the emotions as they slap you across the face like the wind. This job is like no other and there will be times when you want to jump off the roller coaster ride and other times where you don’t want it to end. Embrace each emotion because they come and go so quickly.
8. You are not a coach and you are not preparing for a game.
They may refer to you as “coach” but trust me they have many other names for you. When you make them run fitness tests, max out in a weight room, and rip into them after a bad loss….they find several other things to call you. But when they get old enough they will look back and see you as a teacher, mentor, life coach, personal trainer, and counselor….you never are and never will be just a coach and you are not just preparing them for a game. You are one of the most influential people in their lives preparing them for life after the game ends.