As a coach, how do you approach the quiet ones? You know, those kids who always just kinda smile and nod? I can figure out almost all my rowers personalities but I don’t know how to make the one open up. She’s a hard worker and listens, I just feel like she tenses up around me. Perhaps I frighten her? Or is she maybe just a quiet kid?
I’ve coached and coxed a few people like that. One of my “things” as a coach is that I try to not act any differently around the kids than I do with anyone else. I feel like some coaches put on a front when they get to practice and act as though they have to make it known that they’re in charge, which tends to put a lot of people off, especially the shy ones. I don’t change how I act or my personality or anything like that – in my experience when coaches or professors have done that, it makes them way less approachable, so I just try to avoid doing that. I have a really dry, sarcastic sense of humor too so I tend to make a lot of jokes and stuff when we’re on the water that ultimately ends up loosening everyone up pretty quickly – even the quiet ones.
Over the summer when I was coaching new people every two weeks, I’d try and spend some time the first day getting to know everyone and assessing their personalities. I knew almost immediately who the tough ones to crack were going to be so when we’d do stuff on the erg or when we’d get out in the boat, I’d ask them questions or point out something they were doing well and get really enthusiastic about it if they answered or demonstrated whatever we were doing correctly. Not like, fake enthusiastic, but genuinely excited. Sometimes hearing or seeing that they’re doing something right was all they’d need to break out of their shell.
On the other hand though, maybe being quiet and shy is just an inherent part of their personality, which means it’s something you’ve just gotta roll with. If they’re quiet and reserved to the point where it concerns you, I’d pull them off to the side after practice and ask them if everything is OK. I had to do this once over the summer and it was honestly so heartbreaking because the kid (almost to the point of tears) said that they didn’t want to be there, they wanted to be at a math or physics or … something like that … camp at MIT, but their parents said they had to play a sport so they’d been shuffling them to all sorts of sports camps all summer. The kid was absolutely miserable and there really was nothing I could do to make them enjoy being there so I just had to be as polite and upbeat as possible and accept the fact that this wasn’t something they were interested in. The only thing that really helped in that situation was if we were just standing around waiting to go out I’d ask them about what they were actually interested in. That got them talking and semi-happy, at least for a few minutes.
Another thing you could do if you know who her friends on the team are or if you see her parents regularly before/after practice is talk to them and ask if she’s normally this quiet. Getting some insight from people who know her well can help you get to know her better and figure out the best way to interact with her. That helped me over the summer – normally it’d be the parents approaching the coaches instead of the other way around, but either way it helped us a lot in getting to know the kids. The biggest thing is that you treat her like you do everyone else – don’t pay less attention to her just because she’s less outgoing than her teammates. Eventually/hopefully if she sees you’re making an effort to get to know her, she’ll open up.