Why Coaching With Empathy is Important

“Always remember that kids’ behavior tells a story.” As our Vice President of Education and Innovation, Suzanne Sillett, reminds us, our players don’t show up to our practices in a vacuum. When they are disruptive or distracted, they are not doing so with the intention of ruining our practice. They are showing up to our practices in the context of their days and their lived experiences and that may affect their behavior. As coaches, when we strive to truly understand what is going on with our players – what they are feeling and why they may be acting how they are – we can start to create a supportive team environment that sets them up for success both on and off the field. And a key aspect in doing this is to approach our interactions with empathy.

How can we lead our interactions with empathy?

  • Ask our players questions and actively listen to their answers instead of immediately reacting to their behaviors. Don’t listen just to respond, but listen to understand their perspective.
  • Believe their perspectives and experiences. Our players may have experiences that differ from ours and may react differently than we would to certain situations. We want to validate their feelings and support them by acknowledging and believing their reality.
  • Show players that you care by appreciating them for sharing with you and acknowledging them with a high-five or thumbs up. Collaborate on solutions instead of trying to take over and fix something using your own judgment.

When we lead our interactions with empathy, we are showing our players that they matter to us, that we value them, and that we want to support them. And, to be clear, integrating empathy into our interactions is not a substitute for accountability. An empathetic coach uses their strong connections to work with players on solutions and recognition of emotions. They can also set expectations and engage players in establishing group norms, so they know what to expect and what is expected of them. 

By seeking to learn more about our players, we may be able to see beyond their behavior and into the causes of that behavior – what unmet needs may they have? How can we support them in that unmet need? What skills can we collaborate with them to develop to better handle situations?

Behavior tells a story. Our job, as coaches and supportive, caring adults seeking to positively impact young people, is to learn those stories.

To learn more about how you can practice coaching with empathy, consider registering for our Coaching with Empathy Workshop!

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