I recently decided it was time to retire from coaching football after ten years. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, the time commitment became too much. There’s a lot I’ll miss about it, especially the relationships with the other coaches and the players.
Luckily, over my ten years of coaching, I had some great mentors who taught me how to instruct the game and, more importantly, how to be a coach. Under their tutelage, here are the most important coaching lessons I learned from them. The best part, these lessons can be applied to any sport, not just football.
- It’s a sport, so make it fun
Given the pressure to win, and the money involved at the higher levels, it’s easy to forget that sports are still a game. I had the most fun coaching teams where we were able to mix in a little fun in during the practices. For example, during my early years coaching football, we used competitive drills that taught technique and competitive spirit in addition to being fun for the kids. They were so much fun, that the kids would ask us to run the drills and look forward to them if they knew they were on the practice schedule.
- Organization is key, especially for practice
People always talk about how important game planning is. Well, practice organization and planning is more important, way more important. The most successful teams I coached had practices that were organized and run to a schedule. In other words, the head coach knew he had two hours for practice, would plan out what he wanted to accomplish, and then organize the drills and sessions to fit within that time. Poorly planned and poorly organized practices end up being inefficient, consistently overrun their allotted time, and frustrate the players because it’s just madness with no method. Poor planning results in poorly prepared and disciplined teams who perform poorly on game days.
- Don’t make rules you aren’t willing to enforce
Rules can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. If you make rules, such as miss two practices, and you can’t play in the game, then you need to enforce it whether it’s your best or worst player. Otherwise, you will lose your players respect and run the risk of your best players taking advantage of you. An alternative, as one coach suggested to me, is not to have any rules so you don’t have to enforce them. I don’t recommend this approach. Your discipline becomes arbitrary and varies day-to-day, which isn’t good for your team either. They should know what is expected of them on a daily basis.
- Discipline fairly and firmly
As with rules, discipline needs to be handed out evenly to everyone when they violate team rules or assignments, and it should also be done firmly. In other words, don’t give in to negotiating. The first head coach I learned from was a military man who did an outstanding job handling discipline issues. You would have thought the kids would hate him, but by season’s end, every boy on the team loved him. Why? Because he disciplined fairly and firmly. He earned the boys respect by the way he treated them, and they reflected it right back onto their coach.
- Game day is payday
It’s amazing to watch coaches on television, particularly college basketball coaches, who dig into their players and lose their cool during games. I thought that was standard operating procedure for coaching until I was on the sidelines with experienced coaches. When I asked these coaches how they maintained their cool on game day, they replied that game days were for the players, not the coaches. In other words, yelling and screaming at players during games does not improve their performance. Game day is payday for all the work you put in during the week, not the time to continue coaching.
- Put players in places where they can succeed
This lesson should be obvious, but it is worth writing down. One of the most important things a coach can do is player evaluation and making sure that players are put in a position to succeed. While it’s important for games, it’s more important for practices. The more success a player experiences, the more confidence they gain, which will embody itself in better performance.
There are many more lessons, but these are the most important ones I took away. If you are able to master these and incorporate them into your coaching philosophy, it won’t guarantee a championship season, but it will provide for a fun, rewarding season that allows the players to enjoy the game, which is what sports should be about. You’ll even win your fair share of games along the way, too.