4 simple steps to stronger human connections I learned as a coach.
Yesterday I coached my last youth football game of the season. It was a 3-month commitment of 4 to 6 days each week of practices, scrimmages, and games, beginning August 1st. Plus, as the defensive coordinator, I had to watch our game film at night and scout our opponent’s game film each week. It was a significant commitment of time, energy, and focus. And I loved it.
But there was one thing I didn’t love. The least enjoyable part of coaching in the Wisconsin All-American Youth Football League, WAAYFL, is all of the mandatory online training courses you have to complete to be eligible to coach.
Parents should take great comfort in knowing that their coaches have all been trained in nearly everything related to the health and safety of the players. In fact, I think that the next time I am on an airplane and they ask if there is a doctor onboard I will ring my call button and tell them that while I didn’t technically go to medical school, I did take the marathon health and safety coursework online required to coach in the Mequon-Thiensville Cardinal football program. So I should be good with whatever emergency they were dealing with up in the fuselage.
Yes, we learned how to coach the safest ways to hit and tackle. But we also learned about everything from concussions and heat-related health issues, to heart and neck concerns. And we learned to identify signs of physical and sexual abuse. It’s a lot of heavy stuff to wade through to coach a children’s game.
My Favorite Lesson
But there was one brief unit in our training that stood out the most. It may have felt insignificant to the other coaches compared to the heft of the lessons above. But for me, it offered the best new tool in my coaching toolbox. Granted, my coaching toolbox was pretty empty to begin with. (I only had an old roll of athletic tape and that quote about the size of the fight in the dog.)
The unit I loved was The 4 Points of Coaching Contact. It taught us the importance of developing a connection with our athletes. It provided a simple, memorable framework to follow to connect with each athlete at every practice. My language below may be slightly different than the WAAYFL shares. But the idea is the same.
The 4 Points of Coaching Contact.
1. Eye Contact: You should greet each athlete each day with your eyes. This means, making deliberate eye contact with them daily. (But don’t actually touch their eyes.)
2. Physical Contact: Greet each player with a handshake, fist bump, high five, or pat on the shoulder or back. No bum touching. (That was really part of the broader training.)
3. Ear Contact: This is not about ear flicking or Wet Willys. This is about connecting with a verbal greeting every practice. Say hello in whatever way you say hello. Make it heartfelt. Use their name. There is far great power in this simple act than most coaches realize.
4. Heart Contact: Talk to your athletes about something other than the sport. Ask them how their day is going. Ask about school, their family, or their other activities. Get to know them and develop a relationship with them as a non-athlete. Again, no physical contact with the actual heart is required. Or allowed.
Putting It Into Practice
I thought about The 4 Points of Contact every practice. It used the technique liberally. Although I didn’t hit all 4-points with every athlete every day, I purposefully connected with every athlete as much as was naturally possible. And it made a real difference.
But the impact of this simple relationship-building technique impacted me as much as it impacted the athletes.
Because every time I made eye contact with one of my players, they made eye contact with me.
When we would high-five, fist bump, or shake hands I felt the connective power the way they did.
When I greeted our players by name, they would greet me by name too.
But most importantly, you can’t touch someone else’s heart without them touching yours. It’s the universal law of heartiology. Or cardiology. Or whatever you call it. Remember, I’m not a real doctor.
You have an opportunity to connect with other people every day. Connect with your eyes, your hands, your words, and your heart. This approach works wonders in youth sports. But it works just as well in business, in school, within families, and amongst friends. In fact, these 4 points of contact are how we turn strangers into friends. And if you use this approach every day, you’ll find those friends start to feel like family. That’s what happened to our 6th Grade Cardinal Football Team in Mequon, Wisconsin.
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