Check your biases Coaches!
Coaches... No matter how long you have been coaching, you are likely to fall into a trap of being biased towards or against some of your athletes. Why? Because you're human. That's right, human beings frequently have flawed thinking, or cognitive distortions. The one we'll address here is a basic bias. The definition of a bias is to feel or show an inclination towards or against someone or something. We're not talking about prejudice or more blatant bias, we're talking about showing subconscious treatment of others based on something you like or don't like about him/her. One example is the youth coach who can't help but be annoyed by the parents of a young athlete and subconsciously choose to let that child sit the bench just a little longer than the other players. Or the coach that thinks an athlete is just like he was as a kid and wants to help the kid develop quicker. Note that this is frequently subconscious, or not intentional. We are often unaware of our biases. We may not realize that we are harder on the player that pushes our buttons. We may not realize we coddle or protect the athlete that appears more fragile than the rest. We may not realize that we spend 75% of our time helping the star player get the skill down while the average players get little attention.
So how do you address this as a coach? First of all, start to be a little more mindful of how you treat EACH of your players. Ask yourself if there is any difference in how much attention each of them receive during practice. Requesting feedback from your players, any other coaches, parents of your athletes, as well as other trusted advisors can be really beneficial in helping you become more aware. Awareness is the first step. Remember not to be defensive if the feedback does reveal some biases. Feedback is the best way to bring attention to something you may want to change.
Once you have increased awareness of any biases, reflect on how your thoughts may be impacting your team. Frequently coaches miss opportunities to develop athletes due to their biases. So are you missing opportunities to develop your team? If so, challenge yourself to identify methods to capitalize on those opportunities.
The good news is that thought habits can be changed. Depending on how long your cognitive distortions have been with you, you may need to challenge those thoughts on a regular basis for awhile. But if it helps your team, it's worth the time and energy investment. I have worked with some coaches that deliberately discuss their biases with assistant coaches. Admitting that your tendency might be to let the outgoing kids get more reps over the shy kids can go a long way in ensuring each player has the opportunity to get better. Consider other options, including asking yourself if your biases are accurate. Do they serve a purpose, or are they standing in the way of your team's success?