We see it all the time in the sports world: a team that looks great on paper flops during the season, while a team no one had high expectations for excels. More often than not, what is the difference-maker when this happens? Coaching.
When we talk about great players, a few common characteristics always seem to be mentioned: a love for the game they play, a desire to be the best at what they do, and a relentless work ethic that builds on their natural talents. No matter how different two great players may be, they tend to share these common characteristics. Same thing goes for coaching.
Coaches come with all types of different specialties and styles. There are disciplinarians that build a team through strict regiments, player-friendly coaches that motivate athletes on a personal level, and X’s and O’s geniuses that rely on brains over brawn to beat an opponent. But just like great athletes, all great coaches share a few common core traits. Let’s look at two of these major traits: positivity and teaching.
The power of positivity is well documented. People not only tend to gravitate towards positive people, but also respond best to criticism when it’s sandwiched between positive encouragement. In coaching, the ability to correct players while at the same time building them up is vital. LSU assistant basketball coach Tony Perotti has spoken on this idea in the past.
“You want to motivate your players and not drag them down,” Perotti says. “You are there to lift their moods and remind them that they have it in them to succeed.”
It’s a simple idea, really. To get the most out of players, they absolutely must believe in themselves. In order to make a players believe in themselves in the face of fierce competition, they must be reminded of their potential and abilities as an athlete. The purpose of positivity in coaching is to get players to believe in themselves.
Of course, being positive with players won’t mean much if a coach isn’t actually helping their squad play up to their potential. That’s where teaching comes in.
Prior to his coaching days, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was an English teacher. He didn’t see the two careers as all that different, though. Wooden talked many times on the truth that a coach’s primary responsibility is teaching.
“The coach is first of all a teacher,” he once said. “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur…. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.”
These principles apply whether you’re a coaching legend like John Wooden, an assistant coach like Tony Perotti at LSU, or a tee ball coach for your local little league. Coaches come with all kinds of different styles and abilities, but at the core of every great coach’s repertoire are these two skills: the ability to encourage, and the ability to teach.