What I Learned From Coaching

“Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of men and getting them to believe in you.” — Eddie Robinson

Coaching has been one of the more rewarding activities I have ever participated in.  The ability to teach valuable life lessons in the relatively controlled environment of an athletic season is a powerful experience.

My basic philosophy of coaching is simple.  Learn as much as you can, then provide the skills and information necessary to allow an individual to experience success.  As a leader, it is your responsibility to demonstrate the values that you feel are important.  If you say being on time is important, then you had better never be late.  If hard work is important, than you had better demonstrate that in the way that you approach your task.

As a young coach, I always put so much into developing practice plans, building skills, and forming game plans that I always took the failure of a player or a team too personally.  It is a mistake that is easy to make.  Instead of keeping my focus on the big picture, the team, I dwelt too much on the mistakes that were a natural part of the process.   In life, mistakes are opportunities for growth and that is no different in the realm of athletics.  As a more experienced coach I found that unfortunately mistakes will happen, and the best you can do is to make them teachable moments and learn from them.   What I found was that individuals, given the ability to experience this became more proficient at whatever they were trying to accomplish.

Coaching also taught me to be more patient with people.  Nobody is trying to fail or make a mistake.  Giving them the proper feedback and tools to do something right without belittling them or destroying their self-esteem is the job of any coach.   I watch some coaches who just berate a player almost mercilessly for an error made on the field or court.  I listen to them yell and scream.  I wonder how well they would perform at their job if they were treated in such a manner.

Coaching also taught me that it is important to realize that you are working with the team and they are not working for you.  You are all committed to an activity to reach a common goal, winning.   It isn’t about you and what you are recognized for, it is about the accomplishments of the group.  Which in the end are far more satisfying than individual accomplishments.  The experience of being part of a cohesive group that can achieve it’s goals is one of the most rewarding things I have experienced.

Some of the life lessons I have learned from being involved in coaching are:

Bad calls are part of life, often times things happen that do not seem fair or just.  The ability to overcome these obstacles and still experience success is possible in almost every circumstance.  It is easy to look at a bad call at the end of a game which seemingly costs a team a victory.  However if you look at the whole contest you can always find many things that you had control of and didn’t do which allowed the game to come to that situation.   A recent example happened in the NCAA tournament when Butler faced Pitt.  Pittsburgh was called for a foul with virtually no time left to lose the game.  The focus should have been on the free throw they missed prior to that that would have virtually iced the game for them.   If you focus on what you can do throughout the game and in life you will find, bad calls or tough breaks will more often than not go your way.

How you practice, so you play

The way that you approach every practice, every day will directly relate to your performance and the quality of the finished product.   If you are lazy and take short cuts when the opportunity presents itself, you will often lack the work ethic and determination required when things get difficult.   In life you have to strive to do your best in anything that you do.  It may seem extreme, but if you put your best into everything, always, success will come when the chips are down, and the pressure is on.   Putting all of your effort into a practice to make yourself and your team better, will allow you the ability to put all of your effort into your job, everyday and make yourself and your company more successful.

Failure to plan is planning to fail

If you don’t have a plan and prepare your team for the circumstances they might face, you can’t very well be upset when those situations do occur and the team doesn’t handle them.

For me as a coach, practices were always split into three parts, physical, technical, and tactical.  The physical in being capable of performing whatever task or challenge you are facing.  This includes fitness and conditioning.  The technical involves teaching the skills necessary to be a success.  Skill development should never stop as all individuals have the propensity for growth, always.  Then there is tactical, that is where you prepare your team for whatever situations they might face.  This could be generic clock management in any basketball game, 30 seconds left, down two your ball, what do you do?  Or it could be relaying a scouting report, what you know about an opponent, plays they run, defenses they play, how to best find success against them.  I have found this approach helpful in life.   Developing the physical skills needed to effectively do your job is vital to success.  If you don’t take care of yourself physically, you will miss time from work and be unproductive.  Strive to be proficient in how to do your job.  Take time to develop your skills and continue to develop your skills to continually improve.  This will allow you to achieve success and to feel a fresh approach about your job and not feel “burned out”.  Thirdly, master the tactical aspects of your job.   Know the situations and duties you have to perform and understand them in the context of what you are trying to accomplish.  If you are prepared for what might happen you will succeed when it does happen.


Your either getting better or worse

In athletics and in life every person, every day is either getting better and improving or you are getting worse or diminishing.  There are not many instances where you stay the same.  The positive thing about this I learned is that you have almost total control over what type of person you are.   In athletics, a player who doesn’t continually practice properly will more often than not regress as a season progresses, while an athlete that continually strives for improvement, will almost always get better.  It seems simple, but if you implement that into your daily performance, how would you stack up?  Are you continually trying to improve your game? Or are you satisfied with your place in life?   You are either getting better or worse, you decide which.

Your past does not define you

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