By: Mike Ellson, CMAA - Christ Presbyterian Academy, Nashville, TN
Like us, many Athletic Directors are the product of a set of athletic experiences that began when we were still able to run up and down the court more than once or twice, throw without our shoulder hurting, or get into a three-point stance and be able to get back up.
Those experiences brought into form our own definition of the word "coach". Whether or not that person that made a lasting impact on us as athletes as an encourager, a disciplinarian, or even a tyrant - their approach still likely shaped us as we entered the world of coaching young athletes.
During our experiences in coaching, hopefully there have been moments where you reflected on what Joe Ehrmann describes in InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives as the difference in what the goal of an athletic experience is and the purpose of the same.
The GOAL of interscholastic athletics is easy to see and pursue. It is to win the contest in front of you. Then the next one. Then all of them. It is to always perform at the highest level, both individually and as a team, that you are capable of.
The PURPOSE of interscholastic athletics is to impact the next generation of fathers, mothers, neighbors, business leaders, and people.
Don't think for a second that your coaches don't have that type of impact. Coaches inarguably spend more time with student-athletes during their high school years than even their family. Plus, that time is intentional, focused, and impactful - spent in either a setting designed for improvement or in the heat of competition.
So, if the purpose of interscholastic athletics is to produce the next generation of great citizens, we must be intentional about how that plays out. It deserves continuous consideration since what our coaches say, do, teach, and model impacts young men and women. The four questions that Joe asks coaches - that we should be asking our coaches as Athletic Administrators - is:
The answer to those four questions will give you direction on whether your coaches are Transactional coaches or Transformational coaches.
Transactional Coach - Focused on actions; success defined by team performance and success; no consideration for lasting impact.
Transformational Coach - Focused on people; success defined by relationships; impact hard to measure and lasts for generations to come.
Make no mistake about it - we want our student-athletes and teams to compete! We want the hard work in the weight room, on the practice field, and in the film room to convert into competing at a high level. Within the spirit of sportsmanship and following the rules, we want to beat you every night! That is part of meeting the goal of interscholastic athletics.
But, in order to make that lasting impact and touch lives for generations to come, we must be laser-focused on the purpose as well. To do that, here are five steps to guide your athletic staff towards just that.
1. Begin With the End in Mind - It is silly to think that you would get in your car, back out of the driveway, and drive your vehicle for a hundred miles east of town without knowing where you are headed. You need to know the destination before you make plans for travel. Maybe the destination is southwest instead of east. Maybe it would be easier to travel at night. Maybe it would be more efficient to fly instead of drive. Obviously, several factors would help you develop a plan, but the destination is the key! So, it is when you want to develop a plan for your athletic department. What are the characteristics you want student-athletes to leave with? How are you and your coaches modeling those same characteristics? How do you establish goals and guidelines to be intentional about those characteristics? Why are you setting these goals in the first place? The first step is knowing where you are headed.
2. Authentic Self-Evaluation - Chances are, the coaches in your athletic department are all uniquely talented. Your head football coach of 30+ years may be a rock star in community relations but is having trouble connecting with today's athlete. Your assistant volleyball coach was a star college athlete (bringing her instant credibility with students), but she has trouble choosing the right words to motivate athletes, even succumbing to using profanity at times. The head lacrosse coach brings a wealth of knowledge and experience but finds it hard to organize an efficient practice. By comparison, you wouldn't very well go to the doctor and tell him to just figure out what you need without you providing at least a general direction with symptoms and a medical history. Therefore, an authentic self-evaluation process is vital to being able to develop a plan. Go back to the example in step one - you may know that driving is the most efficient way to get from San Antonio to Houston. But if you don't own a car that means there will have to be some adjustments made to what is the most efficient plan. In your athletic department, you should be asking some key questions to drive that self-evaluation and utilize its results. What skills does each coach possess? What areas does each coach have that could use some refinement? Knowing where it hurts always gives the doctor a better chance at success in diagnosis and treatment.
3. Design a Customized Mentor Relationship - This process doesn't have to be about what your coaches aren't good at. In fact, that head football coach from step two might just be the right person to get the baseball coach the sponsorships and support he needs in funding the new bullpens he wants to build in the spring. The mentor relationships that you design for your athletic department are not just two-way streets; rather, they are a labyrinth built to holistically support the structure of your athletic programs. This is a team approach: modeling for your student-athletes the type of communal, co-existing network that is necessary for success in any arena. Making sure that this relationship is built based on what you learned in the self-evaluation step is important. Highlighting areas of strength - both in individuals and in your department as a whole - as well as providing the necessary undergirding to improve areas that still need shaping and refining prove that it is about impacting student-athletes and not about stocking trophy cases.
4. Set Up Accountability Measures - This may be the most important step of all (after you know where you are going, of course). You can design the best game plan for the big game, but unless an opponent, game officials, and fans show up (and someone turns on the scoreboard), you won't really know how to gauge your success. Setting up a medium to hold everyone within the process accountable is a key component - if not the key component. The old saying, “Inspect what you Expect,” is one of my favorites. But it doesn't give the green light for micromanagement - actually, quite the opposite. It puts into motion a mechanism for showing you care enough about why the process exists and have a deep desire to ensure its success. This could be done through regularly scheduled meetings, self-reflection on the process by coaches, or even a rubric to give a tangible way of keeping track. Bottom line - if the process is important enough to put into place, then check on it! When questions arise, refer to the first step - why are we doing this in the first place. We are impacting future generations - yes, it's worth the time!
5. Constantly Evaluate and Adjust - Don't get stuck in a rut and don't wait too late to make a needed adjustment. If the head boys' basketball coach has a track record of unsuccessful parent meetings, then just putting them on a book study may not be powerful enough. By the same token, if the mentor relationship between the girls' soccer coach and JV football coach has caused that football coach to show vast improvement in designing appropriate student disciplinary procedures on his own, then celebrate that success and move on to the next area that needs refinement (and the next person that the girls' soccer coach can provide mentorship for).
This process is very simple and very do-able. Of course, having an established culture within the athletic department where individuals are determined to be transformational coaches makes taking each of these steps much easier. Taking to heart our charge to put the next generation of moms, dads, co-workers, friends, neighbors, and community leaders on the right path should always be enough motivation to leave things better than we found it. With the hope that one day, in turn, they will do the same.