There are several different coaching philosophies that have produced positive on the field results. Fans of professional and college sports teams often think that a coach who is constantly yelling is constantly coaching. Listen to a local sports talk radio station of a struggling team and you will hear several callers declare that the current coach should be fired and someone needs to “light a fire” under the players. What does that phrase really mean? Several coaches have had successful careers by “lighting fires” under their players and getting them to do what is expected of them by being forceful, threatening and frightening. The all time wins leader in NCAA basketball history, Bobby Knight, made a living out of “lighting fires” under his players. His methods were considered very old school, and many fans romanticize about coaches like Bobby Knight and feel that his methods are the best way to get the most out of kids and professional athletes alike.
I would like to respectfully disagree with those people who feel that this method of coaching is the most effective. Again, this “coach as a tyrant model” can get results on the field, but what are we teaching these athletes about decision making, about having confidence in themselves, and about being leaders? One of the major objectives of youth sports should be to develop character in our players. If we simply give orders, and make demands on them, all they will learn how to do is to take orders and follow directions. These abilities are valuable and will serve the athlete well later in life, but later in life, their future employers are looking for someone who can be a leader, think critically and make decisions. These are the qualities I believe we should be bringing out and developing in our athletes.
It is my belief that the best method to both get results on the field and in an athlete’s life is by adopting an athlete centered coaching style. Without doubt the toughest thing about adopting an athlete centered coaching philosophy is the coach’s feeling of a loss of control. As a coach we believe we should be the leader of the team. Even though this thought process is correct, think about how a well run business is organized. The CEO (coach) has a board of trustees and managers below them (assistant coaches and/or captains) who lead innovative, creative, and independent employees (remainder of your players). If a multimillion dollar corporation can succeed by giving power to people who work for the CEO, surely a youth, high school or college sports team can run in a similar fashion.
One thing that will calm the coach’s fear about giving up some of the control of his team is to understand how much of the control should be given to his players and assistant coaches. The first thing a head coach should do is to make an honest assessment of how much his assistants and players are capable of doing on their own. Assistant coaches who are very knowledgeable can be given a lot of control. If your assistants are new, or not very knowledgeable, it is the head coach’s job to help them grow as coaches, and to give them one or two areas of the game learn and be in control of at practices and during games. Start them small and as their confidence and knowledge grows, so can their responsibilities.
The same can be said for your players. If you have a veteran group of players, you can give them a lot of control of practices, and have some input on in-game decisions. However, if you have a young, inexperienced team, you (and hopefully your assistants) are going to have to do a lot of the instruction yourself. Remember the ultimate goal should be to give control to your players as the season goes on. Look for ways you can have athletes run drills. Continue to give them more and more control as they get more and more comfortable. If you have a few players who stand out as leaders, look for ways to give those players more responsibility.
The transition from a coach centered team to an athlete centered team is a difficult one for a coach to make, and it must be made at the right pace. If it is made too quickly, you will see your team’s on field performance slip due to a lack of direction and instruction, if you make the move too slowly, you will be stifling your assistant coaches and players development as problem solvers and leaders.
The next few posts will describe ways to transition from a coach centered team to an athlete centered team.
To learn more about being an athlete centered coach, check out or Silver Certification at www.cornerstonecoachingacademy.com/silver-certification.