The path to providing an elite student-athlete experience begins in the mind. Here’s the proof:
Athletic directors and coaches must embrace a new reality: The student-athlete experience in 2022 is light years away from what they experienced in high school and college. It just is.
Words like “psychological safety” matter now. Accept it, embrace it, implement it and watch those athletic programs grow. Deny it and do things the way they’ve always been done, and the elite level you pursue, the experience you wish to provide your student-athletes, will always be out of reach.
Think about what’s floating inside the heads of student-athletes today: pandemic, war, social media drama, inflation, student loan debt – who knows what else? And that’s the point.
Coaches can clearly see what’s going on outside of a student-athlete – the physical strength, the agility, the hand-eye coordination, the speed. Those are easy to see and easy to work on.
But seeing inside is a whole other ballgame. And until a coach knows what’s going on inside their players’ heads, speaks to it and works on improving the student-athlete experience, their players will struggle to reach their fullest physical and mental potential.
Defining the ‘student-athlete experience’?
At Ecsell Sports, we’ve learned that the only true way to shape and define the student-athlete experience is to first look inside, through the eyes that matter the most – those belonging to the athletes. That’s where our research always begins, and that’s where the definition of the student-athlete experience originated:
Through eyes of the student-athlete, a coach can build a trust-based relationship and provide a psychologically safe team environment that challenges each student – physically and mentally – to create growth in their respective sport.
In our pursuit to improve the modern student-athlete experience, we have identified six specific areas – six behavioral coaching themes – that are not only instrumental in improving the student-athlete experience, but they also help coaches understand how they influence it.
- Connection through trust and engagement.
- Psychological Safety through a healthy and supportive environment.
- Structure through consistency and predictability.
- Skill Development through instructional interactions.
- Challenge through pushing players beyond previous levels of performance.
- And the glue that holds them all together: Communication through sharing information, strategies, and expectations.
We focus on these six themes not out of a hunch or gut feeling; we’ve come to this conclusion after studying and analyzing input from more than 150,000 interactions between coaches and student-athletes. These themes measure coaching’s impact, so we can help further develop them.
How does Ecsell Sports look through the eyes of the student-athletes?
A coach doesn’t know what a coach doesn’t know. That is, coaches can’t adjust their approach to improving the student-athlete experience if they don’t know where to start.
Again, it’s the outside versus the inside. When a player has a 52% free-throw average, the coach can clearly see the player needs to focus on improving that specific area of his or her game. But, if players are not feeling psychologically safe because of something the coach is – or is not – doing, it’s hard to see. And not knowing what is happening inside your program does not allow you to fix your coaching free-throw percentage.
So Ecsell Sports developed a web-based, anonymous survey platform to collect data on the student-athlete experience from the people who matter most – the athletes. After gathering the answers from a wide variety of questions, we provide coaches a snapshot into what it’s like to be coached by them, as well as resources to help them create a more positive student-athlete experience.
These detailed reports, provided to athletic directors and coaches, outline scores within our six themes – your inside view – which helps us custom-design a plan of action based on those scores. From there, we provide online resources, which include elite performance training modules that help drive continuous improvement.
In the end, athletic directors and coaches are in a better position to ensure their players are getting the best student-athlete experience possible. And the student-athletes have a better experience because their coaches are better prepared to give it to them.
A parent’s perspective of our definition in action
We have case studies with figures that show improvement season over season for the schools we’ve worked with, but when a parent notices … we REALLY must be doing something right.
In one unsolicited, simple email, a parent captures the spirit and essence of Ecsell Sports. In it are words spelling out what we stand for, why we do what we do and why athletic directors and coaches embrace us. It speaks to our core – improving the student-athlete experience – and how our work with a particular coach led to some amazing results.
“… I knew things were going in a special direction when my daughter came home and talked about bits and pieces from the retreat. They were learning about each other in a meaningful way. They’ve all faced struggles and hardship … yes, even the ones that look like everything falls their way.
Then, I heard Coach speak at the team/parent meeting. I was so impressed! She was different from last year (and I really liked her last year). She was more open, more introspective. I think she knew she had something special with this team and was willing to do whatever she had to do to be successful for them, not herself. She wanted a deeper relationship with the girls.
It really was remarkable to watch that happen and see the trust grow. She high-fived everyone coming out of the game and smiled, even after an error. She gained their trust; it was OK to not be perfect. She still believed in them.
Those girls are bonded, now and probably forever. They will always remember this season. Only they believed they could achieve the things they achieved.”
That team, incidentally, made it to the state championship for the first time in 20 years the first season after working with Ecsell Sports.