Being a new coach is HARD. You’re full of enthusiasm and excitement, but even if you are a talented dancer with lots of experience on dance teams, the first time you step into the role of head coach can be incredibly overwhelming. I remember exactly how lost I felt those first few years and part of why I love having this village of Passionate Coaches online is because we all need a little support. So I’ve asked veteran coaches to share their best piece of advice for a new coach. Here are the top 6 responses:
1. First year is the hardest, so start with mutual respect
During an interview with Bri Sorenson, former head coach of Utah Valley University, we talked about how the first year is the hardest, and it definitely is a challenge! There is so much to learn and it can feel like you are drowning all season. But the best piece of advice that Bri had for coaches during that first year, is to start with mutual respect. Treat each dancer with respect, don’t show favoritism or shy away from a dancer you don’t “clique with” right away. During your first year, make a genuine effort to get to know and connect with each dancer. Some relationships will come more naturally than others and that’s, ok but start out by showing your dancers that you respect them and they will respect you right back.
2. If you’re a new coach, don’t be afraid to ask questions, other coaches have your back!
There is always something new to learn and new coaches have TONS of questions. That’s ok! The good news is there are a lot of experienced coaches out there who are willing to help. Reach out to the other coaches in your area and invest in your local coaching network. Join your state coach’s association if you have one, and the National Dance Coaches Association for an even wider network. Attend conferences, follow teams you respect on Instagram, reach out to programs in your area, join some dance coach Facebook communities. If you have a question, just ask! We have your back.
3. Seek advice from non-dance coaches and get a different perspective on a shared profession
While there are tons of great dance coaches out there to learn from, it can be very eye opening to learn from non-dance coaches too. Read biographies of other coaches you admire, get to know the other coaches in your building, and build a relationship with the strength and conditioning coach. Coaching is coaching, regardless of the sport for most contexts, so there is a lot to learn and be inspired by from other sports!
4. Don’t be afraid to embrace competitors
I’ve had so many veteran coaches share with me how close they are with their direct competitors. Whether it’s the high school down the street (like Coach Atchison talks about in her interview) or all of the Big 10 college coaches (like Coach McGee talks about in her interview) I think it’s great advice to embrace your competitors. Sure, a few days a year you are in direct competition. But the other 360 days a year you’re all trying to survive this same crazy rollercoaster. So embrace those competitors as your colleagues and build your coaching village.
5. Making mistakes is normal and necessary for the learning process
Everything is going to go wrong and be a mess the first time. It’s ok, it gets better! A new coach can be especially hard on themselves when they make a mistake, but we all do, no matter how many years we’ve been coaching. So, know that making mistakes will happen. Especially if you take risks and that’s the only way to grow. Don’t be afraid to take some risks and learn from your mistakes. You want your dancers to do the same thing right? We want them to go for a new skill even if they can’t do it right the first time. That’s how they learn. Coaching is the same thing. You have to try, fail, learn, and try again. So be patient with yourself, even the most veteran coaches make mistakes
6. Communicate communicate and then communicate some more
Set up a clear and specific communication plan for your team. Decide who communicates what, how, and when. Then stick to it! Decide what is a captain’s communication responsibility, tell parents how they should expect to hear from you, and set up consistent meetings with any assistant coaches. Always keep open lines of communication and don’t let this slip when the season gets crazy. For more help on this, see the Dance Coach’s Ultimate Planning Workbook and the accompanying Planning Toolbox for help.
BONUS: Coaching has to be something that you really love with all of your heart and soul.
Coaching is the hardest and most rewarding job. It will take a lot of out you, probably make you cry, swear, yell, and laugh with more joy than you’ve ever experienced. It’s a rollercoaster and you have to be willing to sacrifice and understand the magnitude of what you’re doing. (I gathered this great advice from Jodi Maxfield, former coach of the BYU Cougarettes. You can learn more from her in her interview.)