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Wednesday, April 16, 2014


From years of service as a head coach, an athletic director, a principal, and a superintendent, I’ve fielded my share of complaints from folks about those @%#& coaches.  The complaints fall along many lines: strategies deployed, during-the-game decisions, policies, treatment of players, organization, playing time, disciplinary actions (or lack thereof), practice habits, etc., etc.  Coaching is a complex undertaking, and in many ways it is similar to other leadership roles.  

Here are some of the fundamental challenges of coaching (AND leading):
  • Having a deep understanding of a complex, fluid, and dynamic competitive environment.
  • Winnowing such a complex environment down to simple, understandable deployment principles which can be taught to athletes/others.
  • Creating a developmental plan that effectively addresses both fundamentals and highly complex processes, which is understandable by and teachable to a broad range of team members.
  • Finding the right position(s) in which to play each team member, and knowing when to play them.
  • Teaching competitiveness to those who don’t naturally possess it, and coolness-under-pressure to those who are not so dispositioned.
  • Parceling out time in ways that effectively addresses detail vs big picture, part vs whole, offense vs defense, drill vs freelancing.
  • Keeping an eye on long-term outcomes, rather than making decisions in the interest of short-term dividends.
  • Knowing when talented team members are inhibiting/handicapping the team’s effort.
  • Developing a sense of contextual astuteness in relation to timing, responsiveness, application of force, etc.
  • Selling a philosophy of offense/defense/special teams (i.e., a vision) that all the players can rally around and support and pursue with zeal.
  • Weeding out the players, staff, equipment, distractors that get in the way of, rather than support, that vision.

 Sounds so simple, huh?

I have responded to many complainers of coaches over the years in this way:  You may not agree with the coach.  I may not agree with the coach.  But, he/she IS the coach.  Coaching cannot (EVER) be done by committee.  I don’t know of a single coach (from t-ball to professional sports) who does it exactly like I would do it.  And, at the end of the day, at least in athletics, about 90% of the time, the team with the best athletes wins (irrespective of who the coach is).

Leading organizations is similar in many respects.  Even when you have all those bulleted pieces noted above in place, at the end of the day, the team with the best players almost always wins.  

All the more reason to spend LOTS of time/effort/capital looking for and developing talented “players.”

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