On the plane flying back home from the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, I got a chance to speak with U.S. Men's head coach Marv Dunphy, who had led his team to the gold medal. I was finishing writing the first USAV IMPACT manual and wanted some thoughts from him for the book. He had done his PhD thesis on UCLA basketball coach John Wooden long before there were hundreds of books by and about the Wizard of Westwood.
I asked Marv, “In 25 words or less, what would a new coach find of most value from your study of John Wooden?”
Marv had spent more than 100 hours of interview and observation time of coach Wooden and his thesis is worth the read. Marv’s response was,
“John, I don’t need 25 words, I just need two; ‘Be consistent’.”
These two words have since been a core principle for coaches to follow after taking our USAV IMPACT program, yet when I watch many coaches in sport these days, I see that this attention to consistency is sadly missing. We see coaches who recruit players with positive words and promises spew nothing but negativity in their gyms. Look at a program’s retention level of incoming players at any age and you can see how consistent they likely are.
We see coaches who build up players in practice; but once the match is on the line, a foreign body enters their mind and they rant and rage. We see teachers who know the principles of learning and follow them in the classroom, only to walk onto a court or field and throw all they know about teaching out the window. We see coaches who are parents themselves treat the loved ones of their players as if they are the enemy.
We see coaches who fail to realize that the kids are not “my kids” but the parents' kids. Coaches do not raise their players from birth with all the challenges that go with that. They just get to coach them in a sport for a few hours a week.
Treat Them All FairlyIt is an interesting fact that coaches need players, but players don’t need coaches. The beach game showed this reality for decades, and many sports still do.
The classic “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” fits this theme as well. None of us will coach the same as another. You should be yourself.
Marv also noted how no matter who Coach Wooden was with, he was consistent. He did not treat everyone equally, but he treated them ALL fairly. There have been many "aha!" moments in my life that have impacted my coaching, but this short conversation standing up in the plane’s galley, back when it was still allowed, was one of the most impactful. Look at how many of Coach Wooden's players stayed in his program and gave back to their sport after their playing days.
Please work to be consistent for your players in your teaching and treatment of them. Do not be Dr. Jekyll in practice and Mr. Hyde in the matches. Simply be consistent.
In this light, I will close with a letter to a friend who coaches that an official just wrote. It captures the importance of consistent conduct and more – and I am thankful it has been graciously allowed to be shared with some editing that allows for anonymity and universal insight.
Subject: Advice from a friend
Dear Coach and Friend,
Your match last week was my 25th match this year. That means I've watched 50 coaches manage their teams. Of all those coaches, one stands out... you.
Let me preface this by clarifying that although my contact was as an official, you are also a friend. I am writing this from the perspective of a compassionate human, parent and a sometimes wise old baby-boomer.
What I observed of you in the gym was a coach that needs to lasso their negative emotions.
I get it. I know you're a good person and a totally invested coach. Your coaching of the technical aspect speaks for itself. You have a very good team... and a group of really special young athletes.
If you had a camera focused only on you during that match, you may not be proud. You stormed the sidelines (closer than any coach I've seen this year) and literally verbally intimidated players on your own team. You became a 7th player for the other team.
I can also speak from the experience of combining team relationships within a family. I coached my child and my spouse coached my team. (I wouldn't suggest the husband/wife combo to anyone). You have an incredible child who I heard is going to a top Division I program in both athletics and academics. YIKES! They will be so much more than a volleyball player. You are lucky.
I can honestly say that you are not coaching your kid in the same way that I coached my child. I considered it a true gift to share that aspect of life with my kid. It was never about me or them... but us and our team. We were both getting memories that we now talk and laugh about. I can say I was proud of how I coached my child.
I have a challenge for you, my friend. You are playing tomorrow night at home. Your opponent is the epitome of a coach that remains calm, positive and constructive toward their team... winning or losing.
My challenge is that you adjust your approach to the match. The first five times that you feel like you want to yell at someone, stop (try to smile but at least look calm) and give the player/team a supportive comment.They should be trying to win, not trying to keep you from getting mad.
This especially applies to your amazing kid. Try cheering the good plays instead of looking like they were "lucky" they made the play. You only have a couple more opportunities to make memories with your offspring that you will laugh about.
I can only control the fact I expressed my thoughts. The control is now yours.
You are a friend.
Thanks to all in our sport who are growing the game together – like this official and their coaching friends, and every player and parent who spends time learning about life through sport.