Obviously part of the measure of success in athletics is based on how you organize people in order to win on the field. In addition to coaching knowledge and experience, as a coach, you need the ability to create a winning environment, which depends on how you focus and organize your time, how you relate to people, how hard you work, and how you inspire others to do the same.
Ultimately, establishing and conducting yourself by your philosophy of a winning program can translate to creating winners on the field. The best example of this happened in one of our games. We were coming off a loss to North Carolina State and were down a goal against Clemson at the half. In this situation, a coach’s first instinct is to construct a formula or method of motivation to get the players to win the game. You try to inspire them. You also make some tactical suggestions about how to break the other team. We certainly did a bit of that in the locker room at half time. But I also changed the emphasis to a personal integrity issue, which is a part of a coaching philosophy and a process that builds character. The goal presented to the team at the half was not so much to win the game; I actually threw that out as irrelevant at that point. The challenge I gave them was to elevate themselves as expressed by their ability to dominate whatever amount of space on the field they could. If they could dominate only the two or three yards around them, I made it clear that the others would have to pick up their slack and carry them. This emphasized a character issue of personal responsibility.
Ultimately, I wanted each player to dominate as much territory as possible within each zone and express her player personality. Thus far in the game I had seen the opposite--our team deferring to the player personalities of the opposition and “hiding” from the game. All I asked for in the second half was that the players find something within themselves that was worth expressing. I wanted them to express themselves in a dominant form, and thus cover as much of the field as they possibly could.
In the first half, shot totals were Clemson’s 9 to UNC’s 7. If memory serves, in the game after halftime, including a full overtime and three minutes of a second overtime (when we won 2 to 1 on a golden goal), shot totals were Clemson’s 1 to UNC’s 14.
After halftime, we looked at the game differently. We weren’t thinking so much about winning as we were about creating ways to express what made us unique. What inspired this victory was an understanding that not only are domination and teamwork driving forces of success, but that the deeper human qualities of personal responsibility, self-expression, passion, and inner strength can be even greater factors. Like our “competitive cauldron,” a purposeful but supportive competitive environment, the beauty of this mentality is that anyone can adopt it. By simply deciding not to emphasize winning in a traditional sense (because ultimately, of course, none of us can control that; that’s the nature of this game), an environment is created in which everyone can triumph.
As coaches, we must understand our obligation. It’s not so much to win games as to elevate people to their potential. If in the process of doing that we win the game, then that’s how potential has been expressed. But there are many situations in which everyone is elevated to his or her potential, and we’re still not going to win. Within those games there can still be triumph because we have succeeded to inspire the team to play the best that it can.