Our daughter Molly was a gifted high school athlete. Her special gift was speed. She was a leading runner on a cross-country team that won the state championship, and a standout on the track team in hurdles and the mile relay.

But what I loved best was to watch her play soccer. She started on the boys’ junior varsity team as a freshman as there was no separate program for girls in those days, and played two years of college soccer at Wingate University. Sadly, she ended her high school career as a freshman and her college career as a sophomore because of bad coaching.

Lyn and I were troubled by how Molly was treated on those teams, which led me to wonder about what it is that makes for a good coach. I sought answers from two of the best.

Patrick Dennehy is the assistant athletic director and associate director of admissions at Choate Rosemary Hall School. Most relevant for this article, he is the coach of the boys’ varsity hockey team. Last year his team had a 21-6-1 record in addition to winning the New England Prep School Championships. Patrick received Coach of the Year honors in 2010.

When I asked Patrick about what makes for a good coach, he said: “Coaching is about managing people. You want to get the most out of them. I’m lucky in that I get kids with a good skill set. Obviously, I work to hone their skills, but mostly it’s about teaching them about the game.

“Hockey is not like football. It’s more spontaneous. So I teach kids how to deal with the surprising, the unknown. I also work on helping them become more consistent. Kids at the high school level have a lot going on in their lives. They are up and down. They need to learn the importance of making a consistent effort.”

“What about motivation? How do you motivate your players?”

“There are two aspects to motivation. You motivate an individual and also a team. With regard to an individual, you have to know your kids. Each one is motivated differently. If I have a personal issue with a kid, I meet with him privately. I never belittle a kid in front of his teammates.

“Motivating a team is a little different. You want to teach respect for the team from day one. Hockey is about a team, not individuals. You need to convince them that the human spirit can accomplish great things, especially if they work together as a team. On occasion I get mad at the team as a group. You can’t go to that well too often, but sometimes it is necessary.”

For a woman’s perspective, I consulted Betsy Dripps. Betsy has coached girls at the high school level for more than thirty years. Her record speaks for itself. Her varsity girls’ lacrosse team at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School was 19-1 in 2009, undefeated during the regular season with the one loss coming in the second round of the state tournament. This year her team was 17-4.

When I asked her what her most important job as a coach was, she replied, “Building team chemistry. Obviously you need talented players, but a great team needs good chemistry. Everyone on the team must feel important. Everyone must learn to work together.”

”How do you motivate your players?”

“The key for me is that they are having fun out there. They must learn to love the game. If they love the game, they will want to play hard. I teach them to love the game by building self-confidence and working on their skills.”

“Are girls different from boys when it comes to motivation?”

“Yes, very different. You need to be positive with them. You need to compliment them first for what they are doing right. Then you can make suggestions. If you shout at them or belittle them, girls shut down. You will never reach them that way.

“There’s one more thing I want to emphasize about coaching. There’s a lot more to it than teaching skills, doing drills, and getting the kids in shape. Coaching is not just about what takes place on the field. A coach has an important role to play when it comes to what is going on in a young girl’s life; and, believe me, there is a lot going on. You have to know your kids, and be there for them.”

What strikes me about both interviews is that high school athletes are human beings to be related to and not robots to be manipulated and yelled at in a misguided effort at control. I’m afraid that with Molly, her coaches dealt with her more like a robot than a human being. Sadly, it could have been different.