Co-coaching can be a challenging proposition.
Co-coaching with a sibling? Well, some might suggest that’s an absolute recipe for disaster.
That’s not the case, however, for brothers and GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) U18 girls co-coaches Chris and Matt Binks.
In fact, with both men fixtures in a variety of coaching roles, in a variety of different sports, in the Sudbury area over the years, it’s safe to say that based on reputation and talk around town alone, the Brothers Binks have more than found a way to make it all work.
“With Chris and I, it’s interesting,” stated Matt, the elder of the two and a man who can point to a long-standing relationship with the coaching staff of the Cambrian soccer teams in addition to the work he has done alongside teams with his own two children, and elsewhere.
“Neither one of us is extremely intense, though we do have our moments. There are things that bring out the intensity in me and there are things that bring out the intensity in Chris. If there is a situation where I see that Chris is getting a little more intense, then I will try and adopt a different way.”
“It’s nice, for the two of us, because we tend to take turns deferring.”
“If you are both sending the same message in exactly the same way, then there’s no point in having the two of you there,” added Chris.
For as much as there are clearly defined philosophical similarities between the two, there are also clear-cut differences, most notably in terms of the background that has shaped their athletic beliefs. While both were quite active, as youngsters, Chris would excel more at a higher level of competition.
He was also the first of the two to veer quickly to coaching once his playing days were done.
“I was invited into the coaching realm fairly young, just into university when (Laurentian basketball standout) Angie MacDonald asked me to coach an elementary basketball program with her,” said Chris. “I was exposed to some really high level coaches (as an athlete) that introduced me to some pretty awesome experiences, from a competition standpoint.”
“I always knew that I wanted to give back to the sports that gave me opportunities,” he added. “There was something about seeing local athletes improve that just lit a fire under me.”
A teacher by trade, Matt would draw on his personal attributes that also crossed over to his career, in addition to his own personal experiences, as an athlete, to formulate an approach to coaching that allowed him to sleep quite comfortably at night.
“For me, it was pretty simple - there were things that I really enjoyed, as an athlete, and things that I didn’t enjoy at all,” he said. “Both of those will stick with me forever. So when I stopped playing and when my kids were quite young, I decided to pursue some certification, some courses in coaching.”
“As soon as I started that, I realized that I really liked this, that it was something that I was going to keep up.”
Thankfully, the Brothers Binks are also blessed with well above average communication skills, along with the life skills to know when and where open communication with athletes is most helpful.
“You want to promote confidence, you want to put the kids in positions where they have success and that they understand that failure is part of the game and that you can learn from it,” said Chris. “There are three components that we look at, even with our oldest team that we coach: Did you learn something? Did you have fun? Do you want to play next year?”
“If we can check those three boxes, we feel that we have done our jobs.”
Understandably, those guidelines require coaches to access both the physical and emotional well-being of their athletes, something that comes more naturally to some than to others. “I pride myself on perhaps more of the non-technical things, the ability to realize that I don’t think that this athlete is feeling right today,” said Matt.
“I would like to think that I am pretty good on the emotional side of things. If somebody is off, then one of us can take them aside.”
While both Chris and Matt have spent countless hours in recent years guiding their own children - both are blessed with both a son and a daughter, with the cousins nearly the same ages - they’re also more than comfortable at the grassroots level, helping to provide an introductory phase to athletics for local youth.
“Both Matt and I agree that on-going development is the fundamental goal,” said Chris. “As a coach, you try and put the kids in different environments, different scenarios, different positions to foster growth. I don’t expect anybody to score me as a perfect coach on a report card,” he added.
“Nobody is perfect. Being a coach, like being a parent, is very difficult.”
There is a willingness, with this brotherly duo, to acknowledge that coaching, in and of itself, provides a learning environment, even to the one who might be doing the instructing at a practice or game.
“If as a coach, you think that you’re going to knock it out of the park every time, in every training situation, well, you’re not doing yourself a positive service,” said Chris. “Every single time we step on the field or on the court is an opportunity for self-reflection afterwards: what went well or what didn’t go well?”
“If you don’t have the ability to do that, I don’t think that you are going to have longevity in coaching.”
In their case, there is an added variable in play, the presence of a sounding board, and one which comes from a place of shared mutual respect. “We do take a lot of pride in the fact that we are co-coaches, that we do take turns doing things, and that we can talk on the way to practice and on the way home,” said Matt.
“When you know each other so well, it’s easy to see how things are going to go.”
In some environments, co-coaching simply would not work.
For Chris and Matt Binks, it likely works best.