“Coach Speak”: Six Ways to Coach Your Kid for College

One of the primary roles a College Prep Parent should play is that of coach for their college-bound kid. Since you want your kid to arrive – and thrive – in college, you’ll need to challenge, push, encourage, and train along the way. In other words, you need to coach your kid to prepare well for college.

Who better to learn from than actual coaches?

I was blessed to play sports throughout my early years. Starting in the fourth grade, I was always a part of a team until the day I graduated from high school. Regardless of the sport, my coaches all had a “way with words.” Some of what they said probably contained original, spur of the moment, bits of inspiration. Other lines the coaches delivered were fractured quotations from some pretty random sources. Whatever the case, though, these coaches’ exclamations meant to bring clarity to a lesson on the field or the court.

These sayings must have had some effect on me, because I still remember many of them decades after they were said (not always with an “inside voice”). As I think back over these words of exhortation, I am struck with how they can lend a little help to a new set of “coaches” – College Prep Parents. Let’s see how a few of these old sayings might resemble ways you can coach your kid for college success.

Coaching Your Kid to Have Discipline in College

“You’ll play like you practice!”

Probably every coach I ever had told me this. Some teams are bad about loafing in practice because they think that practice time “doesn’t count.” But they turn out to be wrong, when the demands of the game require more than they trained themselves to give.

To thrive in college, your kid needs to realize they can’t take it easy in class and simply plan on learning the stuff at the last minute for a test. The days of just coasting, followed by cramming for the exam, should end now for any student serious about higher education. Waiting until test time to start studying may work in an easy high school class. But college exams require daily discipline in the subject matter to get good results. Coach your kid for college by coaching them to start doing this now. (Learn more about this kind of test preparation here.)

“Integrity is what you do when nobody is looking.”

Coaches often used this line after commanding us to run three-quarters of a mile around the high school campus. The coaches could only see us for the first hundred yards and the last hundred yards. The call to integrity was clear to us. We said we wanted a better team, but did we have the discipline to do what was best for the team when nobody was watching? Even if we were exhausted?

In the same way, students may feel they have “bought in” to doing their best in college. But their integrity in this commitment will be tested each day when nobody is looking. They’ll have to take notes, read books, ask for help, and manage their time – without anyone checking up on them. Will your kid do that?

Integrity starts now, not later. Challenge your college prep kid to own this idea of integrity.

Coaching Your Kid to Collaborate in College

“If you aren’t making a contribution, you’re just a bus rider.”

My old coaches liked to invoke this line often. The meaning was clear to us at the time. If we didn’t do anything to support the team – whether on the field or waiting on the bench – we were just taking up space on the team bus. The coaches were quick to point out that both superstars and less athletically inclined team members had a part to play. Nobody could do it alone. But if you weren’t involved, you were just taking up a bus seat.

In college, this lesson will be an important one for our kids to remember. Collaboration means everyone contributes to work toward a desired outcome. The emphasis on collaboration in college reflects the same emphasis found in much of the modern workplace. Your child will need help from fellow students, and they should help their classmates as well. They will also likely participate in plenty of group discussions and group projects. Share with your student why they need to contribute and cooperate, and give them chances to do just that within your family now.

“You gotta make each other better!”

Personally, I think this was really helpful for me to hear, starting in fourth grade. The coaches told us if we didn’t block our best or run our fastest in practice, our teammates wouldn’t get better – so we would not become a good team. I don’t remember hearing the word “collaboration” in one of those pep talks, but that’s what these words described. We all could individually contribute to make a difference for the group.

Your college-bound kid will soon be challenged to focus on what “the group can produce” rather than only what they can do themselves. For many of our students, this is a new way of thinking. Making a maximum personal effort for a group outcome may be a different experience for some students. A wise College Prep Parent is in a great position to coach your kid for college, by discussing how collaboration works in real life.

(I explained more about the role of collaboration in “today’s college experience” in this article.)

Coaching Your Kid to Be Resilient in College

“If it was easy, anybody could do it!”

I had a coach who went out of his way to schedule the toughest opponents he could for our first few games of the season. He wanted us to know what it took to be good and that there might be some failure involved in getting there.

Some kids have grown up assuming that if they are good at something, it will be easy. That is only true if “being good” means doing something with little effort. When it comes to learning and thriving in college, your kid will be asked to do hard things. This includes things they have never had to think about before, even things they have never heard of before. Their progress will be open-ended. They won’t learn it all. They may not understand even a little bit the first time through.

I heard a professor say that he fears for the college kid who was previously known as the smart, high achieving high schooler. In college, many of these students face their first serious academic challenges. And many “fall apart” when they do.

Resilience means rebounding after a setback, and the only way someone learns to be resilient is to fight through failure. So if your kid hasn’t faced much adversity, you probably haven’t had the chance to coach them for resilience, either. Both of you may need to look for opportunities for your college-bound kid to be stretched now – to get into situations where he or she might need to hear, “If it was easy, anybody could do it!” (or something a bit more “tender”).

“You haven’t lost until you quit trying.”

This expression left an indelible impression on me when I first heard it barked under a blazing Texas sun during an August football workout. When every fiber you have calls out for rest, water, and shade, you have a decision to make. Is the goal you have worth fighting for? Is the prize worth the pain?

A good coach helps a player keep the end in mind. If you quit, the loss is guaranteed. If you keep trying you are still in the game. Clearly, this applies to college too.

College Prep Parents have probably used a variation of this saying since their kid was born. Because college success requires resilience, the College Prep Parent will have more opportunities to encourage their kid to remember the goal and not quit trying. Resilience is a great attribute to have. But it only comes to those who have dared to try something that they don’t get the first time! You’ll need to coach your kid for college by teaching this kind of resilience – and then by returning to this point once they’re in college, too.

(Read more about resilience in college here – or what happens when college-bound kids don’t build resilience.)

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