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Ask the Coach: "How Do I Deal With a Coach Who Plays Favourites?"

Coaching

A young swimmer who's been left in the wake reaches out to the University of North Carolina's Courtney Banghart for guidance.

Last updated: May 3, 2021
What to Do When Your Coach Ignores You

Ask the Coach is an advice column to help you keep your mind in the game.

Q:

Coach,

We recently moved across the state, so I'm at a new high school and have a new swimming coach. At my old school, I got along great with the coach, and there was a lot of team spirit. At my new school, things are different. My teammates are definitely nice and making an effort to not make me feel like the dorky new girl. But there's not the same family feeling I had at my old school, where we all knew each other from https://www.lexico.com/definition/teammatemiddle school. My problem involves the coach. I feel like she's basically ignoring me. Like, she has her star swimmers, and I'm not one of them. Though I'm definitely not one of the top three performers, like I was at my old school, I'm still good, and I know I can get better. But … am I really supposed to do it on my own?

Favouritism Is Suddenly Happening
16-year-old swimmer

A:

Fact: We coaches absolutely, 100 percent have favourites.

The good news is that you can absolutely, 100 percent become one of those favourites, FISH.

Look, I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't always my coach's favourite. When I was in junior high, sometimes I was a bad sport. There were moments during tennis matches when I actually threw my racquet after missing a volley. And no coach in their right mind would reward that behaviour. But then, as I grew into my role, I started to learn that my value to my coaches wasn't just about my performance on the court. It was about my total contribution to the team.

You can uplift others and be eager to learn, enthusiastic and the best in a certain role.

I get that that's a sticking point for you right now. It's tough because you don't know your team's structure, its language, its habits. You miss that family feeling. I know first-hand how hard transitions can be. On my high school basketball team, I was a three-time player of the year—but then my first year playing at Dartmouth felt like starting over. I had to show my new team, "Hey, I'm a really hard worker, I have a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy, I'm here to help". And after about a month they were like, "Oh, OK! So here's how you slide into the puzzle".

What to Do When Your Coach Ignores You

So, how can you contribute and slide into your team's puzzle? You can uplift others and be eager to learn, enthusiastic and the best in a certain role. Not only will this help you form stronger bonds with your teammates, it will also likely put you in contention for a spot on your coach's "favourites" roster.

How you rise to a challenge like this is all about attitude.

Anyone who contributes to a positive team culture and helps me win is on my "favourites" list. If you're one of my basketball players and you've been struggling with your lay-ups and then you stay after training and make 10 lay-ups, I see that. I see when one of my players is all in. I see how they treat their teammates, who's out there slapping fives. I also see if they're the last one on the bus. (Please, never, ever be that person.) But seriously, so much of a team's success comes from the ability of its players to work together.

It may take a little time until you feel totally at home on your new team. Try to be patient. How you rise to a challenge like this is all about attitude. If it were me, I'd go into this thinking, "How am I going to rise to this challenge? How am I going to make this happen?" I know that doesn't come naturally to everyone. I've coached plenty of players who come into the team with a negative frame of mind, saying, "I'm not playing, I'm never going to play". And I tell them, "That's not my reality, that's your reality—and you're creating it". So if you walk into training telling yourself, "No one likes me", that's probably going to turn out to be true.

If you want to flip the story you're telling yourself from a negative to a positive one, you totally can. You have that power. Instead of imagining that everything is stacked against you, recognise the opportunities. On a new team, you get to reinvent yourself. You can focus on a different event or stroke, decide you're going to get that much faster, or even be a different kind of a teammate than you were on your last team.

Instead of imagining that everything is stacked against you, recognise the opportunities.

The ability to make any of this happen lies in you, not in your coach. You're looking for approval from the outside, but as you can see right now, that kind of approval is unreliable. The most reliable support comes from inside and travels with you across your athletic career.

If I ask you, "Who's your biggest cheerleader?" or "Who's the gentlest with you?" and you say it's your mum or your best friend, I'm going to ask, "Why isn't it you? Why aren't you your own biggest cheerleader? Why aren't you treating yourself that way?" It's both such an easy question and such a hard, important lesson to learn. The good news is, you still have plenty of time to treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated.

Be your own favourite. You can do this.

Coach Banghart

Courtney Banghart is the head women's basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Previously head coach at Princeton, she was named the 2015 Naismith National Coach of the Year and served as an assistant coach for the 2017 USA Basketball Women's U23 National Team. A leading player at Dartmouth, Banghart set the as-yet unbroken Ivy League record for career three-pointers. Banghart serves on the board of directors for the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and on the NCAA Women's Basketball Oversight Committee.

Email askthecoach@nike.com with a question about how to improve your mindset in sport or fitness.

Illustration: Harrison Freeman

What to Do When Your Coach Ignores You

Take It Further

For more expert-backed guidance on mindset, as well as movement, nutrition, recovery and sleep, check out the Nike Training Club App.

Take It Further

For more expert-backed guidance on mindset, as well as movement, nutrition, recovery and sleep, check out the Nike Training Club App.

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