The conspiracy theory of being a good coach…
By Dr. Chris Hobbs
In the 90’s there was a tv show titled “X-Files.” It was a pop culture sensation about an FBI agent’s obsession with unexplainable phenomenon and conspiracy theories. The main character was played by an actor named David Duchovny. Duchovny has been awarded multiple Golden Globe Awards for his performance on X-Files and more recently the show Californication. He also has degrees from Princeton and Yale and has authored a few novels. However, I am a fan of Duchovny because he wrote an incredible little article describing his obsession with playing basketball for his high school and how important his basketball coach was in his adolescent years.
“That’s the genius of a coach. They talk to you between the lines, but then you take them with you outside of the lines.”– David Duchovny
For most of my life, I’ve either been impacted by good coaches, tried to be a good coach, studied good coaching on the doctoral level, or have tried to impart to my athletic departments what good coaching is. I have had hours-long conversations with the founders and leaders of the 3D Institute. Being a good coach is a nuanced topic with an intricate web of factors. However, in my doctoral studies and in my own personal successes/ failures as a coach, I have identified three thematic characteristics of being a good coach. You will find these characteristics have a direct connection to the things advocated for by the 3D Institute. This is not an exhaustive list. You can find research that will advocate for other characteristics of a good coach that are just as valuable. Being a good coach is not a conspiracy theory that some are, or some are not. Being a good coach is the result of taking intentional action. I submit these three characteristics as a possible framework for the evaluating where you could become a better coach and where you are already meeting the mark.
Being a good coach is the result of taking intentional action. I submit these three characteristics as a possible framework for the evaluating where you could become a better coach…Click to tweet
Obsessively PREPARED. A good coach takes nothing for granted. I came across a statistic that coaches should operate with a 1:1 preparation ratio. For every minute they must be in front of their team presenting, they should spend at least 1-minute preparing to do so. This is a head-shaking ratio but it sends the point loud and clear that preparation is critical to lead in the chaotic environment of competitive sport. Couple it with the opportunity to influence young people “outside of the lines” and preparation becomes a non-negotiable. Preparation also prepares you to adapt to the unexpected. Winston Churchill, who was known for his incredible ability to speak extemporaneously, had nearly 100 speeches memorized. He was even prepared for the things he was not prepared for. To utilize another historical figure from the World Wars, Dwight Eisenhower was quoted as saying, “I have learned that in war, plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Good coaches are obsessively prepared.
A good coach takes nothing for granted. I came across a statistic that coaches should operate with a 1:1 preparation ratio. For every minute they must be in front of their team presenting, they should spend at least 1-minute preparing to do so.Click to tweet
Model POSITIVE responses to negative circumstances. This characteristic begins to delve into a coach’s personal character development. To model a positive response to negative circumstances is one of the most challenging things that a coach does. Not coincidentally, it is one of the most powerful things a coach does. I once heard NBA Hall of Famer, Hubie Brown, present at a clinic. He opened the clinic by telling every coach in the in gym that his presentation was for those coaches that will lose 20 games in a season. “And for all you smug jerks that have never lost 20 games in a season, keep coaching. It’ll happen.” The gym roared in laughter and Hubie had us all hooked. I lost 23 varsity basketball games in 2013-14 after coming off a great three-year run. It was brutal. At the beginning of the season I refused to let a lack of talent and a lack of winning ruin the season for this team. They deserved to have an experience in which they grew and thrived. I prepared my staff for it and we engaged in one of the most discouraging yet authentically healthy basketball seasons I have ever been part of. We responded insanely positive to the worst of circumstances the entire season. We used the words ‘yet’ and ‘believer’ all the time. We still lost 23 games. At the end of the season, an old-time basketball fan that just hung out in gyms watching basketball games, approached me. He said, “Coach, winning 20 games is hard. Losing 20 games is harder. You lead one of the few programs I have ever seen that does both well.” I have not always done this well, but I got the 2013-14 season right. I think it might be the greatest compliment I will ever receive in my career. Good coaches model positive responses to negative circumstances for their players.
To model a positive response to negative circumstances is one of the most challenging things that a coach does. Not coincidentally, it is one of the most powerful things a coach does.Click to tweet
Consistent PARENT communication. This is one that may stir up a little hesitancy, and it applies exclusively to the high school and middle school level. Good coaches communicate well with the parents of their players. I often hear from coaches, “Student-athletes need to learn to tell their parents what I’m telling them.” I think that is sincerely mis-guided. I do think coaches should apply pressure to their student-athletes to communicate with their parents. I also think coaches should not use that as an excuse to not communicate with the parents directly and often. The United States judicial system has identified school faculty and staff as operating “en loco parentis” during school-related activities. This means that coaches take on some of the functions of the parent while student-athletes are under there care. In the spirit of this legal obligation, how can coaches operate “en loco parentis” if they are never communicating with the parents? I would encourage two communication habits. First, actively engage parents when you see them on non-game days. Stop what you are doing and go say hello, give a fist-bump, or thank them for allowing their child to participate on your team. Do not miss a low-tension opportunity to build trust with the parents. Second, send a weekly communication to parents via email or group communication app. Include the schedule for the next 7 days, a statement on how you feel the team is performing, and a reminder on the ultimate purpose of the athletic experience. I have found that these two simple steps lay the groundwork for trust so that important conversations can happen in a healthy way.
I have found that these two simple steps lay the groundwork for trust so that important conversations can happen between coaches and parents in a healthy way.Click to tweet
Duchovny closed out his musings on a good coach with this quote. “A good coach gives you permission to care so much that you cry over a game.” I believe that intentional actions to be a good coach for the benefit of the student-athletes will produce tears. The tears that I have cried for and with my student-athletes are some of fondest memories of when I believe I was a good coach. I hope you cry some of those tears too.