“A ‘coach’ remains something, or someone who carries a valued person from where they are to where they want to be.” - Kevin Hall
As coaches, our valuable cargo are our athletes. We care about their success and because of that we want to help them get there in the most efficient way possible while inspiring them to be the absolute best that they can be. The following are 5 principles that I believe are marks of an influential coach:
1. Positive Reinforcement
“The way to develop the best in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.” - Charles Schwab
B.F. Skinner, a world famous psychologist, discovered that an animal rewarded for good behavior will learn much more rapidly and retain what it learn what it learn far more efficiently than an animal punished for bad behavior. While our athletes are not animals, I do believe this principle applies to people as well.
Praise is much more effective than criticism. An influential coach focuses on telling his athletes what the are doing RIGHT twice as much as on telling them what they are doing wrong. However, the praise must be real, not cheap praise or flattery.
It is also important to teach the athlete to practice positive reinforcement on themselves. One of my favorite books, and the book at really opened my eyes to the power of the mental game is With Winning in Mind by Olympic gold medal rifle shooter Lanny Bassham. In his book he defines the principle of reinforcement - the more we think about, talk about, write about something happening, we improve the probability of that thing happening (2).
2. Coaches the Individual
“If there is one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get other’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own.” - Henry Ford
In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says, “The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it” (3). Every athlete is different and is motivated in a different way. For example, if you call someone out for being lazy in front of the whole team, one guy may crumble and take it poorly while another guy might get angry and motivated to prove you wrong.
It is very important for a coach to understand their athlete and how to get the best out of them. However, If an athlete does not have a desire to get better or just hates the sport he is doing, there is not much a coach can do to change that - they must truly want to be successful themselves.
"Systems permit ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably. However, without a system, even extraordinary people find it difficult to predictably achieve even ordinary results." - Michael Gerber
As my brother Conor and I discuss what makes great college programs successful year after year, we have realized once common theme - each program has a proven and effective system that is repeated year after year.
I believe this is the key to success for any sports program. That is why you see college football coaches move from school to school and continue to have success. It is not as much about the players but more about the system in place that gets the most out of those players.
The system has to be simple, effective and repeatable. But most importantly, all participants must buy in to the system. An influential coach builds an effective system and get his athletes to buy in - thus creating positive, predictable, and repeatable results.
4. Always Learning
“All meaningful and lasting change starts first in your imagination and then works its way out.” - Albert Einstein
I put this one after ‘Systems’ intentionally because a great coach should always be trying to learn and improve the system in place. Continually testing and measuring the results and improving the machine is key.
In his book, 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John Maxwell writes,”Anyone who knows all the answers is not asking the right questions” (4). Things are always evolving and changing. If we don't do the same we will be left in the dust.
Take the sport of wrestling for example; if you watch Dan Gable matches from when he was competing, most wrestlers today might get a good laugh out of it. The styles have changed so much. If Gable was still teaching only the techniques that made him successful, his program would be left in the dust.
A great coach should always be studying new techniques, learning from his athletes and other coaches. An ego will only limit your potential.
5. Proven Experience
“To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” - Chinese proverb
This one is kind of a given. If a coach doesn’t have some sort of a track record of success then how can you expect future success? Granted, some people are better coaches than they were athletes but they must have experience going through the same grind that they expect from their athletes.
Our high school coach, Coach Bu, is a great example of this. Coach Bu will be the first to tell you that he wasn’t the most accomplished wrestler in the sport but that wasn’t for lack of effort. He just didn’t have the coaching or technique that we were privileged to have. He definitely went through the trenches though.
Coach Bu was one of the most influential coaches not only in mine and my brothers’ lives, but probably one of the most influential coached in the history of Illinois wrestling. He knew what it was like to run long miles in the Chicago winter though knee high snow, and cutting weight, and the agony of defeat. He knew all of the difficulties of the sport and the things he demanded of his athletes because he did it all himself. This experience helped him inspire and influence many athletes in wrestling and in football as he continues to do today.
In conclusion, I have been blessed to have many influential coaches like in my life. As a matter of fact, my coaches have been among the most influential people in my life, period. I think the same is true for most athletes. As coaches, we have a responsibility to get the most out of every athlete who entrusts us with their athletic career. So lets do that in the best way possible. Lets coach with a purpose!
(1) Aspire - Kevin Hall
(2) With Winning in Mind - Lanny Bassham
(3) How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie
(4) 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth - John Maxwell