Sports in America is like apple pie with ice cream—they just go together. For many, playing sports provides an outlet to escape the trials of life, while others aspire to be the next Michael Jordan, Sidney Crosby, Serena Williams or Tom Brady (Go Patriots!). Mostly anyone who has played an organized sport can tell you who their favorite and least favorite coaches were. Coaches play an integral part of whether your experience learning and developing your sport is positive or negative. So, what type of person gets into coaching and what makes one coach better than another?
Most coaches are former players of their sport; it only makes sense. I was fortunate enough to play and work in sports at a high level starting as a teenager and as an adult. I have had all kinds of coaches throughout my career- some good and some bad. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with Athletic Directors such as Gene Defilippo at Boston College and Charlie Titus (UMass Boston) and coaches Tom O’Brien (Boston College), Jerry York (Boston College), Bill Geivet (LMU), C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers University), Terry Holland (UVA), Mike Poidomani (Boston College), and Shawn Windle (Indiana Pacers). I was able to take some aspects of their coaching styles to develop my own.
The best coaches are able to relate to their players and are in the business for the right reasons. Coaching isn’t yelling or punishing your athletes by running them to death. Good coaching is getting the most out of your athletes with the talent they have. What I learned most while working with many coaches is that they are human and have often have pressures impacting their thought processes that sometimes athletes are not aware of.
Being a coach, you have to be consistent and preach the same message day-in and day-out in order to build a program. Having good coaching at the grassroots level is essential in an athlete’s development. The key word is development, because youth sports need coaches to develop the fundamentals of their sport in his or her players. This foundation is critical for teaching the game. At that level, it shouldn’t be about wins and losses but about athlete development. When wins and losses are put into the equation, fundamentals get lost and the mission statement of the coach is inhibited because the focus is only on winning.
With the growth of very competitive club sports, it seems that often times athlete development is supplanted by wins, players trying to showcase their talents, and coaches with their own agendas. Players are learning a “me first” style of play and coaches only care about getting the best talent on their rosters so they can win and secure their future. It is important to get involved in coaching for the right reasons, not for notoriety but for sheer love of the game and love of teaching your sport.
As a coach you have to stay true to yourself and not try to be someone you’re not. You have to be selfless and compassionate because at one time you were in your players’ shoes. The higher up you go in the coaching world, the harder it is to stay true to yourself. We have seen this happen time and time again. You don’t want to be remembered as a chair throwing, berating or verbally abusive coach. You will never get the best out of any athlete through fear and intimidation. You will only create an athlete who is afraid to make a mistake when he or she plays or a player who resents you. I, personally, never liked being yelled at as a player. I liked being coached hard, but that doesn’t mean you take away a child’s confidence by berating him or her for making mistakes. As a player, when I got yelled at, I didn’t outwardly show it but I felt disrespected, chastised and angry. After a while, you start to tune the coach out when all he or she does is yell. The message gets lost. I know coaches have high expectations of themselves and of their athletes, but sometimes I think they forget what it was like being a player. Getting yelled at for not being coachable is different than getting yelled at for making a physical or mental mistake.
When I coached at the college level, I knew what type of coach I wanted to be. I wanted to be respected, not feared and able to relate to all of the athletes. The first thing I would tell my athletes is that I would not yell or curse at them. That’s not my personality and I didn’t think it would be productive. I told them I would treat them like adults. If they acted up, I would just ask them to leave the weight room and before returning, we would have a meeting. It’s not fair to the rest of the athletes to focus on one player who doesn’t want to be there. My players got the message and would really do anything for me. I also told them that I was there for them, not for myself. I had an open door policy and no question was a dumb question for the most part. My goal was to bring out the best in them so they could reach their goals and have a great 4 years in school.
My coaching style was shaped by all the positive and negative experiences I had as a player in youth sports and at the collegiate and pro level. I have players today still thanking me for how I coached them and some even got into coaching themselves. That’s a very rewarding feeling. Coaches should not be afraid to show their emotions and let their players know that they care about them as a person, not just as a student athlete.
Great coaches remember what it was like to play, put realistic expectations on their players, coach their players hard, develop everyone on their roster (starter to bench player), don’t use fear as an operative weapon, hold everyone accountable, spend time with every player on their roster, instill confidence and are always truthful. When you start lying to players, you begin to chip away at the integrity you built in the program, which causes resentment and discontent. The last and most important trait of a coach is humility.
It’s not about you, it’s about the players and putting them in the best position to succeed.
Today Gregg Popovich best exudes the type of coach I think everyone should aspire to be. He relates to all his players, coaches them hard, respects all his players, develops not only players but also everyone on his staff and doesn’t micromanage.
So, if you are currently a coach or thinking about getting into coaching, remember that players are looking at you and entrusting you to lead, coach and develop them, not berate, belittle or scorn them.