At all levels of competition, coaches are decision makers. We decide what to emphasize at any given practice, which players play what position, and so on. Some coaches base decisions on insufficient knowledge, a shaky philosophy, and an underdeveloped sense of direction. That’s a recipe for failure, inconsistency, and an unsatisfying—if not, short—career.
Most coaches form general ideas as to what is important, how to approach their task, and what steps to take to allow them and their teams to be most successful. The fuzzy, gray areas become clearer with experience.
The best coaches have a highly developed sense of what is right and wrong, have formed solid precepts from which to analyze people and situations, are able to prioritize what is most important, and then gain the support and efforts of their athletes and fellow coaches through their actions. Throughout my career I tried to absorb all I could from other coaches, be they big names or no names.
Among those who impacted my approach were Fritz Crisler, my college coach at the University of Michigan, Benny Oosterbaam, and David Nelson, my predecessor at Delaware. I first worked for Harold Westerman at the University of Maine, and he had a great influence on me also. These coaches were special leaders who helped me form a strong foundation for coaching the game.
The careers of these fine coaches illustrate that there are many ways to approach the role of coach. Lou Holtz has been head coach for six colleges and one professional team. Joe Paterno has coached at Penn State for five decades. But believe it or not, they all began by thinking small—first addressing the basics, then forming a consistent plan, and then moving toward short-range goals.
All four coaches reflect the ability to change, but not just for the sake of change. They had plans that included change. They had to adjust and adapt over the course of time to make their programs the best that they could be. We have so many great coaches, both past and present, to learn from. Thousands of others left a legacy, a history from which to draw. Study the great coaches. Read their books. Seek their counsel.
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