Four Foundations of Coaching

10 Jul

160710 - coaching

What we need in a coach are what we’ll call the “four foundations”.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Technical proficiency
  2. Teaching
  3. Motivation (or Love of the Game)
  4. Role Modeling

Technical Proficiency

160710 - technical proficiency1

What separates most football fans from coaching is the knowledge required to coach.  Not only must a coach “know” about the game in great detail, he must also have experience.

To this day, my favorite commentary on coaching experience comes from Coach Gruden.  Not long before Gruden’s Super Bowl victory over the Raiders (with the Bucs), Gruden granted an amazing interview where he discussed how a young guy like him could be an NFL head coach.  The most memorable part of the interview was when Gruden talked about all of the letters he receives from the hundreds of folks that want to come coach for him.

Gruden didn’t cover up his amusement at some of the letters.  Many of them were from people who had played a lot of Madden NFL games, and (because they were undefeated or had won gaming Super Bowls) felt that they were ready for the fame and glory of NFL level coaching.

160710 - madden football

Madden is a wonderful franchise.  I like that it gets people interested in the game (who might not have otherwise considered an interest in football), and it does have a teaching value.  However, the down side of the games is that many people will play the games, then think themselves ready to make major decisions for a team ranging from drafting to drawing up plays.

Many of these folks would know nothing about how to set up a player in a proper stance.  Those that played high school ball might think they have the position coaching down, only to discover that the plays they would want to try out just don’t work in actual practice.  (Anyone who has coached has had a kid come up to them with an idea for a play; and anyone who has coached knows why these plays look “neat” but aren’t practical).

In fact, most (honest) coaches at the youth level will readily admit that the pro game is light years ahead of anything encountered at the youth level, and that one just isn’t going to step in and coach with any success without years of experience.  However, I don’t mean to sound elitist.  One doesn’t need to know the game inside and out to get started in coaching.  There are three paths to coaching, and everyone starts somewhere.

First path to experience

160710 - volunteer as youth level

One common way to start your coaching career is to volunteer at the youth level or to ask to volunteer for a local school team.  You don’t have to be a coaching genius if you have the right disposition and a desire to learn.

If you enjoy kids, want to be a good role model, and are more concerned with teaching than winning, give it a shot.  (BTW, good teachers lead to more wins than guys who can’t teach).  This is an excellent way to learn more about the game, more about coaching, and a good way to make connections with school level coaches.

Second path to experience

This option is less accessible to most people, but is a great way to get an inside track on coaching.  Get a teaching credential and sign up for a team at your school.  Many schools have a union requirement that faculty have first dibs on any coaching jobs, regardless of how good an “outsider” can coach the team.

Third path to experience

Play the game. Folks who have played at the college level, or are enrolled in athletic courses where they assist a team, have the most inside track of all.  Many NFL coaches started by playing at the college (then perhaps pro level), and/or took courses in sports at a college where they were required to intern or participate in an academic work/study program with a team.  After that, they got hired and went on from there.

But the bottom line is, nobody is going to just walk into the office of a HS or college athletic director, or an NFL owners office, and just get a job.  You must know the game, and you must know it inside and out.  Again, the knowledge required to coach can be picked up, but one is going to need to learn those skills through one of the paths above.


160710 - teaching

The funny thing is, all the technical proficiency in the world won’t help you win ball games if you can’t get the knowledge from YOU to the players.

Different players are made differently.  By this, I’m not talking about physical qualities, I’m talking about mental qualities.  It isn’t even a matter of certain kids being “smarter” than other kids.  Here’s the big secret to teaching – different kids learn in different ways, and if you can’t identify what makes a kid tick, and if you can’t adapt your teaching to that learning type, you won’t get far in coaching, or at least as far as you could get.

So, because kids are so different, both in football smarts and football skills, effective teaching relies on two things: patience and second chances. A coach, especially in youth football, must be very patient and must grant second chances where and when needed, and as often as needed.

A coach — a teacher — must develop the courage to risk failure in his players.  Kids will do that when they know the coach cares about them and will let them try again when they fail. Failure should be expected. It should even be embraced because it’s when we, as coaches, can do our best teaching.

Confidence and a balls-to-the-wall attitude can come from failure, but only if coaches encourage or demand that a player try again. And when a players does, teach your ass off.

Motivation (or Love of the Game)

160710 - motivation

So you know what needs to be done, and you’ve communicated it well to the players or the assistants.  You still aren’t done.  A team of physical specimens with a head full of football knowledge will still not win games if they aren’t motivated.

A dominating opponent can kill you team if your kids don’t believe they can win.  A team of players that arrives at your school and gets of the bus looking like a bunch of slobs (shirts un-tucked, horse playing, etc) may make your players too overconfident.  Too much rough practice may make a kid feel like “football isn’t worth it”, while wimpy practices don’t build character or good programs.

A good coach must inspire his players.  He must know when to be calm in the face of adversity, and when to turn on the intensity.  He must not be afraid to raise his voice, but must know when a soft voice will get further.  He must know that there is a value in “psyching up the players”, but realize that too much adrenaline can rob a kid of focus too.

A player is a combination of physical skills, mental skills, and spirit.  Often, spirit is what separates two teams.  A motivational coach — one who loves the game and can convey that love to his players — knows how to build a never-give-up attitude in his team.

Role Modeling 

160710 - role modelWhat does this have to do with football?  Everything.

The standard you set as a role model will determine which kids will play for you.  If you denigrate the scholastic standards required by your program, you’ll have kids failing off the team.  If you ignore character, your star players may end up missing games because of suspensions.  If you don’t demand self-discipline, your players will commit costly penalties.

If you are a solid role model, your kids will go to the gates of Hell and back to play hard for you.

It is crucial that every player knows he is valued during a game, and that every player, whether he has family in attendance or not, is an important part of his football family.

And after you have done all of this, there’s still the problem of managing the team. Little things that eat up time and sometimes, your patience, like reorganizing practices because an assistant coach didn’t show up. Meeting parents. Raising funds. Dealing  with loss, and dealing with wins. Dealing with heartbreak. That can come all in one day, and certainly during the course of a season. It has been said that ordeals don’t necessarily shape or mold a person’s character, but reveal it. It’s true as a player, and particularly true of a coach.

Because if you aren’t ready or willing to learn, if you aren’t willing to go beyond video games or what you learned in high school, then maybe you aren’t ready to teach.

Or to coach.


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