By Ronald J. Kanaskie
After serving on a high-profile interscholastic football staff for the first 15 years of my professional career, my path has taken me to coaching in two highly diverse cultures: interscholastic golf and wrestling.
The immediate thought to the laymen is “wow, how did you become involved in these two sports as they share minimal similarities”?
The answer is, easy, if you are devoted to teaching team success.
The culture of junior golf and junior wrestling are as divergent as one could imagine. Any sociologist could have a professional triumph dissecting company and contrasting not only the cultures, environments, but the coaching tactics of both sports.
But let’s keep this concept simple with this hypothesis: “Interscholastic golf and interscholastic wrestling are NOT individual sports.”
One must accept this premise time and time again in order to be a successful coach at the high school level. These sports appear to be individualistic in their approach, but they keep team scores.
Everything you do as a coach in both sports must be built around the concept of TEAM, TEAM, TEAM.
The attraction to golf and/or wrestling for many youngsters and their parents was the fact that both were individual sports. They were going to share the spotlight with no one. However, that attraction needs to be downplayed at the interscholastic level of competition. Their “day in the sun” will come throughout the regular season if the coach approaches it correctly.
Team building must be incorporated daily, starting with the first team meeting at the start of every season. Each athlete must accept that he or she is representing the school district in competition.
Golf, in my opinion, is the most difficult sport to utilize team emphasis. This is largely due to the media attention on the PGA tour. The only time team play gets any attention is during the end of the year with the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup competition. Hence, for most of the year, it is the individual who gets the attention.
Immediately, at the start of the season, the coach must erase the “I” into the culture of each sport. Understand that the cultures are different in their composition. Not only are the socio-economic requirements different, but the competitive characteristics are far apart.
Team attire in golf needs to be addressed from the start. The athletes will be representing their school district; accordingly they all must be attired in a similar fashion.
Early in my coaching days, aside from a team hat, no teams in our area of competition were dressed uniformly. That concept had to be changed. Team shirts, hats or visors all with school logo or identity were issued. The players were expected to have the same shade of khaki slacks with a belt and shirts tucked in. A bit of ridicule and self- consciousness were immediately sensed by our players. Gradually, however, winning took care of that subjectivity from our opponents. Now, all teams follow in our lead. There are no exceptions to this expectation. The No. 1 player is dressed exactly as the No. 6 player.
While team dress is common now, players’ mannerisms and courtesies are also part of our method of operation. Players are expected to take the initiative of introducing themselves to the opponents immediately on the first tee with proper eye contact and smiles. Our players must be the first to congratulate the opponent after the final putt on the 18th green with a smile and eye-to-eye contact. It must be a team characteristic.
Throughout a match or tournament, our players must be encouraged and coached to communicate with their teammates while crossing fairways, tee boxes, etc. to comfort, console and encourage each other – letting each other know that they care about each other’s performance. These concepts will gradually become a constant trait of your team. When the opponents get in their van to return home, you want them thinking that your team was a class act throughout the competition.
In the course of the competitive season, coaches should encourage and facilitate acts of team building. Something as simple as going out for pizza the night before a golf match or playing practice rounds with team members at the opponent’s course will provide relaxation and team cohesion.
During competition at a golf match, the coach is an integral part of the team building. Your respective state, league or local rules will dictate when you can talk to your team members. The concept is simple: Be available and be there for your team throughout the round of golf. Once you get a feel for where each person’s game is that particular day, follow that with a positive experience for each team member. Something as simple putting your arm around them, a handshake or merely a “thumbs up” will go a long way toward telling them how important they are to the team.
Be the most positive person on the planet as you speak with them individually. Don’t be afraid to coach as teenagers need you throughout their round, even if you never utter a single word.
Wrestling offers a much easier opportunity to facilitate the team element because of the nature of team competition. Each member of the team is in full view of the rest of the team throughout the competition.
However, if not approached by the coach properly, team building can go awry. The team identity rests solely on the shoulders of the coach.
During the practice sessions, a coach must be mobile throughout the practice room. Be sure to spend as much time with the first-year team member as you do with the most accomplished. Make sure you vocalize the positives of each team member throughout the practice. Positive reinforcement should always be the vehicle utilized. Do not chastise or verbally attack team members for lack of skill execution or mental errors.
After each practice the locker room provides a great resource for positive team development. The coach should move through the locker room discussing each individual’s positive contributions during the practice. Always remember, the team just busted its butts – not for you, but for the betterment of the team.
During the competition, each wrestler needs to be active while watching and cheering for his peers. This trait is not necessarily natural as it has to be taught and emphasized by the coach.
If need be, go up and down the bench encouraging team members to cheer for their team members. Collecting team points via a fall or bonus points are obviously important, but not giving up bonus points is equally important.
In wrestling each team member will come off the mat after competition in full view of not only his team, but the entire gymnasium. The coach should be there to greet him in a positive manner. The outcome of his performance as reflected on the scoreboard is insignificant. Be sure to greet each one with a handshake. Never ignore a team member after he has competed, and don’t be afraid to hug the team member who lost in front of his team.
Remember, once you win him, he will win for you and win for the team.
There are several conceptual ideas that can be utilized in both sports that provide a significant method of creating the team concept.
Team meetings after competition are a vital aspect of team building. When an athlete puts his head on the pillow at night, he needs to know what his coach feels about their contribution to the team. These team meetings should always take place at the same place just prior to the departure for home. Your eye contact must always be present after a competition. All team members need to be involved for this idea to be successful.
A coaching tactic that should have a place in your lesson plans is to incorporate team members into the teaching facet of the sport. This tactic can be utilized in both golf and wrestling.
The greatest way to learn a technical aspect of the sport is to teach that tactic. Allow team members to share their expertise with other team members in group sessions. This method not only opens the ears of other team members, but allows the teacher to take ownership of his expertise. Hence, the team grows as a group because of the individuals involved.
In conclusion, the concept is simple: everything you do as a coach on a daily basis in both sports is predicated on the concept of TEAM, TEAM and TEAM. Enjoy this concept and your team members, year after year, will remember you for your coaching style.
About the Author: Ron Kanaskie is the athletic director at Danville (Pennsylvania) Area High School and also serves as golf and wrestling coach at the school. Kanaskie ranks second all-time in Pennsylvania for coaching career wins in the sport of wrestling. In addition, he serves as the coaches representative on the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Directors.