3 Simple Ways to Support Your Athletes

Jun 13, 2022

One of the primary responsibilities of a coach is to both challenge and support their players.

Most coaches have no issue challenging their players and teams. However, many coaches struggle to provide real, meaningful support to their athletes.

But if we really want to have a transformational impact on our athletes, and help them individually and collectively reach their potential, then it's critical that we provide our athletes with real support.

Here are 3 simple ways you can begin to support your athletes that Mike Schall, Assistant Coach for UNC Women's Volleyball, shared during our 2022 Summer Coaching Series:

1. Greet Them

One of the simplest ways coaches can begin to support their athletes is by making a habit of greeting them.

Before practice begins, individually greet every player on your team—see an example of this from Coach Schall above!

At many practices, coaches congregate in huddles talking to each other prior to the beginning of practice while players spend time warming up or talking with other players.

This isn't an inherently bad or wrong thing, however, we often miss one of the easiest and most powerful times to connect with and support our athletes in those moments before practice begins.

Coach Schall uses a simple strategy for "Greet Them" called Talk & Touch:

  • Talk = Connect with them through conversation
  • Touch = Connect with them through appropriate physical contact

Make a habit of greeting every player, every day and your athletes will likely begin to feel a higher level of support from you.

In doing this, you'll begin to develop a greater connection with your athletes and a greater awareness of how you can individually meet their needs.

It's not difficult, it just takes intentionality from you and your coaching staff to take advantage of those moments before practice to use them to connect and support the people in front of you.


2. Meet with Them

Have a 1-on-1 meeting with every player on your team once a month.

This is essential if you're serious about supporting your athletes!

If done well, the potential benefits of these meetings are significant, namely...

  • Better relationships with players
  • Deeper insight into your players as people
  • Clarity of roles and expectations
  • Opportunities to resolve conflict
  • Players feeling valued
  • Players having an opportunity to voice concerns and frustrations
  • And so many more!

I'm sure you could add a lot of potential benefits to that list as well.

In the UNC Women's Volleyball program, the staff has a 1-on-1 meeting with every athlete, every month.

Coach Schall highlighted how essential these meetings are to the health of their program and team.

He also shared a few tips for 1-on-1 meetings:


Meet with Them Tip #1: Meet them where they're at—literally at figuratively

Literally = Where they spend time, on campus, in the cafeteria, pretty much anywhere other than your office

Figuratively = recognize that every athlete is at a different stage in their journey.

Meeting with a 19 year old freshman is significantly different than a meeting with a 22 year old senior.


Meet with Them Tip #2: Ask questions that go beyond sport and performance

Use these meetings as an opportunity to help your athletes consider their life outside of and beyond sport. 

Coach Schall shared how they ask their freshman questions about what they want to say when their time at UNC is done.

What a powerful thing to talk about with your players. It helps them begin with the end in mind.

It also create a powerful way to support your athletes once you know their aspirations. 

If a player shares with you that at the end of their time in your program, they want to look back and know they were a great teammate or that they embraced their role well, then when they're failing to do that at different points in their journey, we can support them by reminding them of their aspirations.


Meet with Them Tip #3: Be clear and kind about their role on the team and their performance

1-on-1 meetings are also the best time to be clear and kind about where athletes stand on your team and what they should expect when it comes to playing time and their role on the team. 

Coach Schall shared this during this presentation...

 "Love isn't tough and honesty isn't brutal." 

We should keep that quote in mind as we navigate what can be difficult conversations for coaches and players in these meetings. We can be both loving and honest in our communication with our athletes.

These meetings do not have to be long, 5-15 minutes would likely suffice depending on your context, but they should be intentional. 

Here are tips to make sure these meetings are done intentionally:

  • Have an agenda for what you will discuss
  • Prepare questions for the meeting beforehand
  • Write out what you need to communicate with them on the agenda
  • Take notes on what your athletes share with you
  • Ask your athletes to summarize back to you what you attempted to communicate to them
    • This is especially important around their role and performance

Make a habit of meeting with every player, every month. 

It's worth the time and effort if we're committed to supporting the people that we lead and coach.


 3. Eat with Them

Sharing meals together can be a great way to connect and support players—if done well.

Many teams have "team meals" during their season, but just having a team meal doesn't mean it's actually supporting your players.

Two tips to use team meals to actually support players:


Eat with Them Tip #1: Eliminate the coaches' table

Sit, eat, and talk with the players.

Get to know them as people, and build meaningful relationships with them.


Eat with Them Tip #2Ask good questions

Be curious, ask questions, and listen.

Go deeper than just sport. Ask them questions about their family, friends, childhood, hopes, dreams, passions, and anything else that will get them talking and opening up to you and their teammates. 


Make a habit of eating with your players at team meals, during your school lunch period, or other appropriate times and places. It's a fantastic opportunity to build meaningful relationships and provide authentic support to your players. 


To make a transformational impact on our athletes, and help them individually and collectively reach their potential, we must be intentional about offering real, meaningful support to every athlete we lead.

It's not hard, it just takes time and commitment from the leaders.

Choose 1 of the 3 and start doing it today!

  1. Greet Them
  2. Meeting with Them
  3. Eat with Them


If you'd like to learn more about the 2022 Summer Coaching Series, or get access to the replay of Coach Schall's presentation, click here.

You can listen to Coach Schall on Episode 23 of the podcast at CECPod.com