By Adam Hurwitz
When asked what defines a player-coach relationship, head football coach Ted Dalicandro responded without hesitation, “Respect”.
Though the specific sport, along with age and gender of the players, can seriously affect a player’s relationship with their coaches, mutual respect is the one value that is important in every interaction.
For Dalicandro, every decision he makes regarding his players is out of respect for their efforts.
“For any kid to strap on the helmet and to put the time into playing football”, he said, “They deserve all the respect in the world”.
No matter the sport, mutual respect between a player and his or her coach leads to a more productive program.
Field hockey and girls’ lacrosse coach Molly Widrick summarizes a strong player-coach relationship as, “[one] based on mutual respect, in which the student athlete respects where the coach is coming from, and they can both criticize each other in a beneficial way”.
According to Widrick, this type of respectful relationship allows more honesty, trust, and openness to feedback for both the players and the coaches.
Junior Sam Canavan, who is on the golf, ski, and baseball teams, prefers a more relaxed coaching style, but still values the importance of mutual respect with his coaches.
“A coach shouldn’t be too serious, and should be able to goof around, but also the kids should respect the coach and listen to them when they have to”.
For Canavan, his relationships with his coaches vary greatly depending on the sport. The players’ personal interactions with their coaches cause these differences for Canavan.
“In golf, we get to know [our coach] well; we talk to him a lot and goof around with him,” said Canavan, “In skiing, we don’t really know the coaches well because we don’t talk to them much.”
In baseball, since it is a large program with three teams, there is a lot of distance between the head coach and the players.
Senior Dylan Meehan, who is a captain of the football, ski, and baseball teams, agrees that player-coach interactions vary between sports, but for him, it is more because of accessibility.
“I see Coach [Dalicandro] all year, and can pretty much go to him whenever I want”, Meehan said.
This close relationship Dylan has with Dalicandro is because he is always available at school, which his other coaches are not.
Another major component of a player-coach relationship is age. Guidance counselor Aaron Lewis also coaches the Brown Middle School baseball team, and he believes the same values create a productive player-coach relationship with younger players, but in different ways.
The level of respect necessary parallels that in high school sports, but the communication is different. Rather than communicating about issues and conflicts, which is important in high school, Lewis promotes “check-ins in terms of wanting to stretch an athletic ability, and seeing what a player wants to do in terms of playing a different position”.
The players don’t all know what sport they’re going to pursue, unlike in high school, so Lewis tries to communicate with his players to help them be better prepared for a higher level of play.
Finally, gender plays an important role in determining relationships between players and their coaches. Widrick believes that the main difference between coaching girls and boys is the emotional connection that’s required with girls.
“The girls tend to need that family culture,” she said. “They need to see that as a team you’re a family, and that I’m there to support them emotionally, not just with the sport”.
Though the emotional and familial relationships may be more common in girls’ sports, a good player-coach relationship for boys can feel like a family as well. Meehan believes he and Dalicandro’s strong relationship is one of that nature.
“A good coach player relationship is almost like a family connection”, he adds “you can go to them about anything and they’ll have your back, in and out of football”.
Dalicandro believes that his relationship with players is not strictly limited to football, and he tries to relay this message to them.
“If a player has a problem, I’m more than just a football coach to them. Like I always discuss with them, I’m not raising football players, I’m raising young men”, he commented.
Dalicandro strongly believes that in today’s world, where there are so many people raised the wrong way, he has a responsibility to make sure his players turn out to be positive members of society.
“I love hearing from former players who come back and tell me that the lessons I’ve taught them, or the things that we’ve talked about outside of football, have really helped them in becoming who they are,” he said.
Athletic Director Patricia Gonzalez thinks this family-like coaching style isn’t necessarily the best way to handle player’s problems anymore.
“In the past, if a kid had a problem at home, the coach was almost a father figure to them”, she said. “It worked like that for many years, but in today’s society, the coach needs support to help the students”.
Gonzalez believes that guidance counselors and outside assistance should play a supportive role in player-coach relationships, not solely the coach and the player themselves.
With each of these deciding variables in mind, Newton South’s athletic department works actively to ensure the coaches they hire will promote positive relationships with their players.
“When you hire a coach, having a successful program is important, but it’s not the most important thing”, Gonzalez concluded. “The most important thing is [the player-coach] relationship, because it reflects the experience that the student will have at the school”.