The Pathway: Empowerment
“Once players realize that their opinion matters and it's important, they will contribute more to the advancement of the program. And that's how you develop educated football players.”
- Fergus Connolly, performance coach
By Mike Kuchar
“David” was the type of kid many of us have in our programs. He did everything right: never in an ounce of trouble, a meticulous student, and an extremely hard worker. He was what most coaches would call a program kid. But, there was one potential glitch in David's personality: he wasn't a very good communicator. Like most teenagers, it was hard to get a beat on anything that was bothering him. David internalized and suppressed his beliefs, that was up until they no longer could be controlled. And that’s where the explosion ensued. This explosion could take place in many forms, poor behavior on the field or classroom and even destructive or illegal, behavior off the field. Either way, it could have a catastrophic effect on an individual's demeanor and in turn, a team's development. And in most cases, coaches wouldn’t know what he was feeling until it was too late. As disruptive as it was personally for David, it was even more disruptive for the team. He knew what was bothering him, yet had trouble communicating it. It’s a scenario that plays out every season in every program. Yet what if David was placed in an environment more conducive to self-expression? An environment where players were empowered to communicate their needs? Could this have been prevented?
Self-Advocacy as a Competency
The story of David is the result of players not being empowered to express themselves and their self- interests. Self-advocacy is a behavior that enables players to understand their strengths and weaknesses, know what they need to succeed, and be able to communicate that to other people.
It’s a competency that gets broken down into three important elements:
- Understanding specific needs
- Knowing what help or support will address those needs
- Communicating those needs (both to other players and coaches in this case)
Why Self-Advocacy is Essential to Creating a Player-Driven Culture
Self-advocacy is the action of representing oneself or one's views or interests. But for young players who may be inherently reserved, asking for help can be intimidating. So, they need to be equipped with multiple strategies to address their needs. The development of self-advocacy is a byproduct of an educational process provided to players by coaches, that perpetuates the intent of whole-person development. I found that this competency of self-advocacy to be one of the more difficult to attain because it exists through empowering players with the opportunity to express their personal views and outside interests, which can be a struggle for many reasons. For one, young student-athletes grapple with vocalizing their needs because it contrasts with the masculine culture football is embedded in. For coaches to create an environment conducive to promoting self-advocacy, they need to not only accept self-expression but promote it. While the mantra “open door policy” may sound cliché, many of the coaches in this study live by that philosophy and spend more of their time working on off-field pursuits to develop the players in their program. Secondly, young players are still in the developmental process of learning about themselves, and may not be entirely aware of their social needs; proving the assertation that “they don’t know what they don’t know." Often players develop an identity that links themselves directly and solely to their football prowess.