I have always loved sports. When I was growing up I loved to play anything that involved a ball. It didn’t matter what it was--tennis, basketball, or golf. Then, in college, I played field hockey, basketball, lacrosse, softball, and squash and coached during the summers.
I started developing my coaching philosophy in my first full-time coaching position at Perkiomen Valley in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where I went from coaching junior high to coaching high school. Then in 1980 the U.S. field hockey team, which I was on, qualified for the Olympic Games. I was preparing to go to Moscow as a player on the national team before the U.S. boycott of the Olympics came through. My superintendent told me that I had to choose between playing in the Olympics and teaching, because the team was going to miss the last two weeks of school. It was an easy decision for me: I was going to play.
Later, a field hockey head coach position opened at Old Dominion University; when I interviewed for it I said that it was very important to me to continue to play as well as coach. They didn’t have a problem with that; in fact, since I began coaching there in August 1980, the administration has also allowed me to take sabbaticals in order to coach the national team.
Purpose of a Coaching Philosophy
A coaching philosophy consists of beliefs or principles that guide a coach’s actions. Those fundamental values function as the base of the philosophy, and they should guide the coach every day, in every decision she makes. A coach’s philosophy is more apparent through her actions than through her words. You cannot fake your philosophy; what you consider most important will eventually become evident through your behavior, regardless of your stated philosophy, goals, or priorities. Daily actions and behaviors will betray you if you claim to espouse one set of beliefs yet clearly hold others more important.
The three cornerstones of my coaching philosophy are to be consistent in what I expect of my players, to be as prepared as possible so that I can perform as well as possible, and to continue to learn as much as I can about the players and the game. If, instead, I were to send mixed messages to my players, fail to organize and ready myself and my team to meet future challenges, and disengage myself emotionally from my players’ lives and mentally from gaining new knowledge about the game, I would lose the respect of anyone paying attention.
A coaching philosophy provides perspective by helping coaches identify and remember what is important to them. Keeping that philosophy intact is as important during the good times as it is during the bad times. It may seem like it would be easy to remember it during the good times, when things go smoothly. But after tasting success, a coach may become intoxicated with the high that comes with victory and accomplishment and thus be tempted to break from any part of her philosophy that she perceives is holding the team back. In bad times, the same may happen--the lack of success or presence of challenges may cause coaches to rationalize behavior that isn’t consistent with their values. Either way, through good times and bad, sticking to your philosophy allows you to keep balance in your life.
During my first year of coaching, my basketball team at Perkiomen Valley High School struggled through a losing season. One response to our lack of success could have been to berate the players and focus on winning games. But we kept working on the fundamentals and concentrating on doing our best. The next year we had a winning season and continued on to the state playoffs.
A sound coaching philosophy helps a coach formulate a strategy. Without one, she may feel uncertain about her course of action; that lack of conviction will lead to inconsistent behavior, which in turn will result in chaotic conditions or a lack of direction for the team or program. Having an established philosophy removes any doubt about decisions regarding training rules, style of play, discipline, codes of conduct, competitive outlook, or short- and long-term objectives.
Finally, a philosophy helps a coach develop a plan or process by which to run her program, which is necessary for success. Not only does she need to have a plan, but the people involved in her program--the athletes, assistants, and other staff--need to recognize, understand, and buy into it. Their acceptance enables the coach to build consistently on the plan, allowing for growth of the individuals, team, and program.
More important than simply providing a clear picture of the process, the plan demonstrates that you, the coach, have a vision. You have to articulate that vision until everyone understands your mission, goals, and expectations. Writing down the plan or process is important; everyone needs to look in the same direction and see the same big picture. They must see it not only on paper but also in their minds so that they understand it. Ideally, it is also in their hearts!
This is an excerpt from She Can Coach!