A senior star wonders if his final season will live up to its potential. An incoming freshman worries that she might lose her scholarship. Like most athletes, they find it difficult to deal with a coaching change. To learn how athletes can ease the transition to a new coach, we reached out to Sean Kugler, new head football coach of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) to ask the hard questions many athletes have, but are afraid to ask.
Kugler began his career as a standout guard for the Miners; and after a brief stint as a player in the NFL, he spent 12 years as an NFL and college assistant coach. As a first-time head coach, Kugler shared some tips for dealing with a coaching change, which he has gleaned from personal experience. This three-part series will cover everything from scholarships and recruiting to player-coach relationships to making sure you get maximum playing time.
In Part 1, we cover the basics. According to Kugler, here's what you should know before meeting your new coach for the first time.
Your Coach Knows About You
You Googled your coach when you heard about his hiring. Just know that the coach has researched you as well. When he took over at UTEP, Kugler's first priority was to learn about his players. He says, "I checked all the grades and visited with retained coaches. If players checked out from an academic and character standpoint, I called them and told them their scholarship was being honored."
Worried your grades weren't high enough last semester? Then make up for it this spring before the first practice. According to Kugler, struggling athletes can redeem themselves "if they show a focused daily effort to improve. Otherwise they'll make a poor impression on ability to improve to the new coach." (If you're struggling, check out this article on how to get better grades.)
Learn How to Make a Good First Impression
For most coaches, discipline is everything. The ideal athlete is always "on time, attentive and focused," Kugler says. "Confidence and trust is built over time by doing the right things on and off the field."
If they show up late even once, athletes are red-flagged immediately. Coaches grow weary of athletes who are unresponsive, inattentive or disinterested during meetings with authority figures. But the fastest way to permanently lose your coach's trust is to lie or steal. "That completely eliminates any trust in my mind," Kugler says.
Get on the Same Page
The upcoming season has a lot riding on it for both the new coaching staff and the players. To keep everyone going in the same direction, Kugler mandates that his "players communicate with him and his staff and are accountable for their actions both on and off the field." Kugler also sets these expectations for himself, his staff and the administration.
If you're confused about program changes and your role on the team, talk to the coach immediately. For a team and individual athlete to be successful, there can never be any gray areas. "Everything needs to be made black and white," Kugler says. "Players should understand what the daily expectancies are of them." (Check out The Power of Accountability: Setting and Reaching Goals.)
Seek Out Your Position Coach
Because the majority of your dealings will be directly with your position coach, developing a strong relationship with him is crucial. The best way to start off on the right foot is to let your position coach know that you're serious about playing time. Express both individual and team goals for the upcoming season. From there, Kugler says, the most important thing is to "work hard to show your coach you're daily trying to improve."
This advice applies both on and off the field. If better grades are your goal, bring to practice any outstanding scores from the week. If your goal was to beat last year's rushing total, stay after practice for extra sprints.
Want to get more playing time next season? Watch for Part 2 of this series for advice on how to impress your coach on the field.