We Do the Best We Can with What We Know
In September of 2007, I became a coach. How any of us “become” a coach is an interesting story. Becoming a coach is not a lot like becoming a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. While we have the potential to impact thousands of lives over our coaching career, many coaching jobs require no education or qualifications.
When I got my start in coaching, my limited qualifications still managed to impress the administration of a small basketball club in Ireland, who hired me. I had never coached a day in my life or received any prior training in coaching. Yet, I had a relatively successful high-school basketball career in America, and a year of playing experience at the NCAA Division 1 level, as a walk-on at the University of South Carolina. It was enough experience for them to appointed me as the head coach of two teams, not just the one I interviewed for!
At first glance, I was hard-working and passionate. Coaching came naturally to me. I exuded confidence from the very first practices and games that I coached, as I barked orders and ran them through practices that I organized down to the minute. My passion and enthusiasm caught the attention of other clubs nearby, and within two months, I was offered an additional job as the head coach of a women’s senior-league team in a nearby town.
Throughout my first five years of coaching in Ireland, I served as the head coach for a minimum of five teams every year. I coached at the underage club level, high-school basketball teams, a semi-professional men’s league, and a university women’s team.
After moving back to America, I spent the next five years as the head coach of a high-school basketball program. I also ran a youth academy for over 100 kids, and summer camps for hundreds of youths.
My only coaching qualification was the completion of a six-hour FIBA Introduction to Coaching Basketball Course. The course was mandatory for all coaches. It covered a few basic drills, and some simple tactical concepts (e.g., man and zone defense). After learning of my background as a former NCAA Division 1 basketball player, the course instructor let me lead some of the course.
Here’s the truth: While I was passionate, hard-working, and well-intentioned, I was also severely ill-equipped to be effective as a leader and coach of so many athletes.
Here’s another truth: I had more coaching education than many of the high-school coaches in America.
During my first decade in coaching, I made a lot of errors. I taught players poor shot mechanics. I tried to implement too many plays. I stubbornly refused to play zone defense for the first eight years. I made an abundance of technical and tactical errors. Honestly, I am still amazed that my teams won as much as we did.
However, none of these errors were as costly as my leadership errors. I overemphasized technical and tactical skills. I wasn’t intentional about building relationships with my players off the court. I relied on old-school coaching methods to motivate my players. I tried to build team culture by just randomly applying ideas I came across or made up. It’s amazing that even with my lack of intentionality, I still managed to have teams that worked hard, and I still formed some positive relationships with players that have lasted to this day.
Nevertheless, my teams usually underachieved, and my influence on my athletes’ lives was limited. We could have been better. I could have helped more young people. As I look back on those teams, and some of the individuals whom I failed to get through to, I can't help but wonder what more could we have achieved, and how might things have turned out differently for certain individuals if I had known a better way.
I’ve come to accept that I did my best with what I knew. I just didn’t know any better, and it’s the same for so many coaches worldwide. We’re just doing the best we can with what we know.
In many sports worldwide, coaching education in the last decade has been taken more seriously. Yet, it’s still shocking how little education is mandatory or offered—and what is offered does not really dig into what coaching is all about. There is not much training available on how to prepare coaches for the demands of the job, how to effectively motivate players, how to empower leaders, and how to enforce standards. As friend Cody Royle wrote back in September 2022, we need coaching education that prioritizes the right things: knowledge, culture, learning, leading, and the human condition.
Coaches need practical education. They need methods to build team cohesion and relationships with their athletes. They need skills to effectively communicate with and support their athletes. They need tools to effectively hold their players to a high standard in a way that is demanding, not demeaning. Until we can offer—and even require—this education, we can’t hold coaches accountable if they simply don’t know any better.
If you want to better yourself, the coaches on your staff, and the coaches in your department or club, then you need to be equipped with the tools, skills, and methods proven by experience and science to be most effective at building healthy connections, raising standards, and creating a high-performing team. This is why I created The Culture System Online. I know from my coaching experience that coaches need education on what is most important and will help create an enjoyable experience, a positive impact, and a great team culture.
I hope you take that step forward this year!
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