Witmer’s Wisdom: Why You Should Become a Coach

Considered coaching but haven't taken the leap?

Have you thought about your ultimate frisbee coaching skills lately? Like many, you might think “I’ll coach when I’m retired”, and ignore the opportunity to hone your coaching skills while you are still in the game. This is a recipe for disaster for our sport, and also for your ability to be a masterful frisbee coach when the right opportunity arises.

Here are a few reasons you should start thinking about your coaching skills now, even if you’re not sure you want to become a head coach any time soon.

The Ultimate Community Needs YOU!

Even if you aren’t going to be a head coach of a club team, there are opportunities large and small where coaching skills are needed. Youth clinics, new player sessions, local league teams, and youth teams all need coaches, and  your local community likely has some of these things going on. And if they don’t, it is more likely due to the difficulty in recruiting coaches than a lack of interest.

The truth is the limiting factor in the growth of the sport of ultimate is a lack of coaches, not a lack of exposure or publicity. Those things may help. But if there aren’t coaches around to do the actual work of enabling folks to learn to play, then we simply will never reach our potential as a sport in either number or quality of players.

This is the situation we are in right now. I know this is true because I have heard it repeated again and again from community organizers in many parts of the world.

“One of Triangle Ultimate’s biggest challenges is recruiting enough coaches for our youth programs each season. We have an awesome community of engaged & quality players, but when approached about coaching, many don’t feel confident in their ability to coach an entry-level youth program. We do offer seasonal coach orientations – but that doesn’t always reduce the barriers our adult players or youth parents face in making the transition to coaching.”

~ Lauren Finn – Triangle Ultimate

“It’s frustrating when you try to help develop the sport, yet you are one of only a few doing so. We have a great number of interested players to do so, but they usually lack basic knowledge and/or training to pass information on to new players. I would love to have fellow teachers or for players to invest in that.”

~ Victor Maielo – Organização Ultimate Brasil

So, whether you’re in a place where ultimate is just developing or in a place where there is already tons of ultimate, chances are your community needs more coaches!

Coaching Skills Are Teammate Skills

Even if you don’t plan on a long term coaching career, working on your coaching skills allows you to become a better teammate. Explaining to someone how you do things also forces you to think critically about your strengths, weaknesses, and how you apply them. How did you build those strengths?

Can you explain a skill you have to a teammate with less experience? Can you notice opportunities for strategic adjustments from the sideline? Can you communicate your ideas clearly? Can you offer mental and emotional support to teammates when they need it?

These are all coaching skills. What if everyone on your team worked on acquiring or honing one of the above? How unstoppable would your team be if everyone on the team had something larger to offer in support of the team goals?

As an added benefit, the act of uncovering our own implicit knowledge can deepen our own understanding of our ultimate skills and game IQ. Many coaches become better players after embarking on their coaching journeys, with a clearer understanding of their own game and how to communicate and work with their teammates.

I became a skilled handler only after teaching about 20 newer players how to throw. And my understanding of marking and defensive positioning is enhanced every time I coach others on these same skills. So really, the decision to work on your coaching skills now, while you are still playing, is a smart way to make the most of your playing career too.

Coaching Skills Take Time to Master

If you think you might like to be a coach someday, why not start now?

Some coaching skills like communicating, reading a team’s needs, and quickly assessing tactical adjustments will never reach a state of perfection. Coaching skills take time and practice to develop to a high level. The earlier you begin a bit of deliberate practice, the higher your ceiling on your coaching skills will be.

In my first year of coaching, I took way too long to explain drills and would often start drills without explaining how to rotate through them. Then we’d have to stop and re-explain. It took a while for me to learn to talk less and be precise. It also took time to uncover that my natural coaching talents lie in my ability to be present and adaptable. I can now create drills and activities on short notice based on exactly what a team needs. And because I got past my imposter syndrome and now trust myself as a coach, I am better able to support and inspire confidence in coaches who are still developing their own skills.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and you can begin now and give yourself a better chance of reaching true expertise. Becoming a relative expert takes less time than you think. At the same time, becoming an expert ultimate frisbee coach – one of the best in the world, is an entirely achievable goal. How could would it be if you could be best in the world at something?

Becoming one of the best ultimate frisbee coaches in the world is an entirely doable goal for anyone willing to put in the effort. Right now, very very few people are putting in regular, deliberate time into developing their ultimate frisbee coaching skills. Many coaches simply coach; doing it mostly the same every year with some minor improvements that come with experience. But the best coaches deliberately practice their coaching skills. The best coaches often work on specific areas of the game, like film study, defensive strategy, or throwing mechanics to focus their efforts and make progress toward expertise more quickly.

This is something that anyone can do. And if you start now and put it 1-2 hours/week for about 2-3 years, I believe you will already be in the top 10-15% of coaches worldwide. There are so few are putting in this type of quality work, the quantity necessary to become among the best is currently not that large. Why not you?

Getting Started!

If you’d like to get started on your coaching journey, sign up for our UAP Coaches Conference – it’s happening right now this week! Then keep up with regular tips from veteran coach Keith Raynor in his column, Bring it In, and from Ultiworld contributors in the Tuesday Tips series. Or for more advanced ideas, subscribers can watch Ultiworld Film Room content. Or, take the UAP Coaches Certification (available in our Coaching and Game IQ Classroom) to get a crash course in ultimate frisbee coaching basics.

There are more resources available than ever to level up your ultimate frisbee coaching skills. Go learn, get inspired, and get to work!

  1. Melissa Witmer
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    Melissa Witmer is the founder of the Ultimate Athlete Project. She has been a part of the ultimate community since 1996, and is an author, content creator, and coach. Something of a citizen of the world, Melissa lives and works abroad and has instructed and connected ultimate players and coaches from all over the world.

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