A Coach for All Seasons

Summer workshops promote skills that count off the field

Department: Athletics

By Melissa A. Torres-Laing

Plan your week according to homework assignments. The exercise seemed simple enough for the coaches who gathered for the annual Fall Coaches Meeting in Thurston Memorial Chapel in July. But as they split into groups of four, ready to fill in the blank schedule, the typical workload for a Punahou senior seemed anything but simple. A 3 – 5 page lab report in physics; 2 pages of problem solving plus an upcoming test in calculus; 25 pages of reading and a paper due in English; another 25 pages of reading and a PowerPoint presentation in social studies; and a 5 – 7 page research paper in anatomy.

As the coaches stepped into the shoes of their student athletes, they, too, felt a time crunch. With an average of four hours of nightly homework, days were jam-packed. Now, throw in team practices, family obligations, possible part-time work or volunteering. Cross country coach Duncan Macdonald added another factor some student athletes face, asking aloud, “Where does this student live?”

“The focus of my talk is time,” Academy Dean Paris Priore-Kim ’76 explained to the coaches during one of three evening workshops. Her session not only gave them “a sense of the academic demands we, as faculty, ask of students,” she told them, but also encouraged coaches to share with one another how they already care for and support their young athletes.

Coach Macdonald chimed in: “Time off. Sometimes a student will tell me, and [I’ll listen]. Rest is a very important part of the sport.”

“We don’t have practice on Fridays. It’s always been my feeling that they are looking at this workload. … That’s how we balance it – supporting families and academics,” said kayaking coach Denise Darval-Chang.

Student-athletes who experience a premium coach will often look back and identify their coaches as important influences – perhaps even the most important, in their personal development and eventual success. Priore-Kim backed that notion with evidence. A survey she conducted three years ago about “Care and Connection in the Punahou Community,” showed that 94 percent of the student-athletes who responded identified the person whom they receive care and support from as their coach.

At Punahou, with nearly 1,600 students involved on the intermediate, junior varsity and varsity levels, coaches play an important role within the student-athlete experience.

That experience, noted volleyball coach Peter Balding ’77, can be further enhanced by using the latest brain research to adjust to varying athletes’ learning styles, previous experience and personal background. “Some kids will learn better if you tell them, show them or have them practice. So use demonstration. On top of that, I have to make it fun. … For me, as a kid, I could do the same drill over and over again, and it was fun. But that’s not every athlete. What helps is that brain research tells us how to engage the brain at different times.” To demonstrate his point, Balding asked the coaches to stand for a “brain break.” “Draw the letters of the alphabet in the air in front of you.

But as you outline each letter, starting from the [number] one, count aloud. And when you have to think about it, sit down.” The coaches started strong. The invisible letter “A” became “1,” the letter “B” – “2,” C – “3” and so on. While the exercise kept the coaches on their toes, one by one they all floundered, but not without having fun.

“The objective is to engage your athletes,” said Balding, who stressed the importance of creating a learning environment in sports to both support individual growth and the success of the team.

“What I’ve found is that when kids know that you care about them as individuals,” said Balding, “then the learning is greater.” Water polo coach Ken Smith echoed that sentiment during his workshop with the coaches, challenging them to “this year, think of yourselves as teachers of your sports. … Successful teachers focus on the process and the outcome takes care of itself.”

Smith also shared a few elements of great coaching: motivation, communication, listening, caring, positive reinforcement and empowerment, including ways to dole out tough critiques – like focusing on what players do well and how they can do it again. “When I first started coaching, it was hard to relinquish power,” Smith admitted, but he soon learned that what he said was not as important as how he said it. “I learned that if I allowed them to do things, they felt empowered. It was a very simple thing.”

Coaches guide their student-athletes through life as much as they guide them through sports. “Concentrate on the journey,” said Smith. “The most rewarding challenges of sports are those that lead to self-knowledge.”

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