Athlete Development through Relationship Building by Kasey Hill, University of Vermont Assist. Coach
Thinking back on my experiences as a young athlete, winning was something I wanted for myself, but it was rarely the focus of my coaches. They wanted me to achieve my goals, but for them, being a partner in helping me do so was most valuable. Their emphasis was on using my determination, and what they knew of me as an individual, to guide me toward the things that were important to me. They helped me to understand the level of commitment that was needed to accomplish what I’d set out toward, and provided me with opportunities to develop.
I think of it as growing through advantage and adversity. Learning how to compose oneself when things are going your way and when they’re not; and it’s not unique to sports. As a coach, I strive to use the time spent with the athletes I coach, and their determination to reach their individual goals, as an opportunity to empower them, to promote confidence in themselves, and to learn more about who they are and what’s important to them. I use pieces of the relationships I had with my own coaches to guide me.
I apportion my time as an athlete into three parts. My high school years, college years, and post-collegiate years. I worked closely with five different coaches in thirteen years of competing. Some I saw every day, others only once or twice a week. The ones who were most impactful to my development were the ones who took time to get to know me. They also happen to be the coaches that I’m still in touch with, twelve years later.
In my current role as a coach, I often ask myself: how did my relationships with my coaches help me develop as a whole person? How do I replicate and improve upon these commonalities with the athletes I coach? How has my coaching evolved since I began? And perhaps most important: How have my relationships with the athletes I coach changed as I grow in my pursuit of encouraging their holistic development?
Reflecting on these questions and improving the way I coach is a continuous pursuit.
What I’ve learned thus far is that showing athletes that you care about them as individuals is the most important act of coaching you can achieve. It’s not enough to tell them, they need to feel it in your actions and interactions with them. Be vulnerable – let them see you for who you are. It will only encourage them to be their authentic selves with you as well. I strive to take time to talk with each athlete every day, even if it’s just a greeting or feedback after an effort. I work on seeking opportunities to get to know them better one on one. Whether that be a scheduled meeting, or taking advantage of a long van ride.
I find it is important to use practice time to allow them to develop. Creating an environment where they are comfortable telling me how they feel on any particular day whether it be positive, or that they feel heavy or tired, for example. Then providing space to help them work through what they can from an activity standpoint, in order to make positive change that day. Focusing on recovery, skill work, body awareness, and helping and encouraging others when they’re not feeling at their best works to give them perspective and allows them to take some initiative in their training.
Lastly, I think another big part of coaching the whole athlete is to allow each individual to set goals for themselves that are truly their own, and not influenced by the actions of others whatsoever. This may be a semi-unique facet of track and field. The actions of others are uncontrollable, but there is always room for self-improvement. Even when an athlete is not having their best day, there is always something positive that can be taken away from any opportunity. Helping them to achieve what they’ve set out toward in a positive and nurturing manner is my way of using sport to help athletes develop holistically.
Kasey is an Assistant Track & Field Coach at UVM who works with jumpers, sprinters, throwers and multi-event athletes. She previously trained and coached at Kansas State University. She has also worked as a Volunteer Coach for Harvard Track & Field and The Cambridge Jets Youth Track Club.
As an athlete, Kasey was a 2x All American, 2x ACC Champion, and 2x Olympic Team Trials Competitor in the Combined Events. In 2010, she finished 4th at the USATF Championships. She traveled internationally competing for Team USA in the heptathlon until she retired in 2012.
Kasey enjoys spending time with her wife Sara and dog Izzy in the mountains of Vermont and on the lakes of Maine.