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MHR University - The Five Foundations of Coaching


As part of a speaker's bureau, I was once asked to give a presentation to a group of businessmen about coaching, and I was asked to discuss the ingredients required to make a good coach.  I came up with the following five traits required (in my opinion) to make a good coach.

Different coaches will have different traits in different quantities, and those differences will define the type of coach that a person is.  But it is my opinion that each of these traits are required at least in some small measure.

Read on...

There are many different skill sets a coach can possess, and (according to my right honorable friend Napoleon Dynamite), chicks dig them.


Still, the Dynamite skill set won't cut it in football coaching.

What we need in a coach are what I'll call the "five foundations".  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Technical proficiency
  2. Teaching
  3. Motivational
  4. Role Modeling
  5. Managerial

Technical Proficiency


What separates most football fans from coaching is the knowledge required to coach.  Not only must a coach "know" about the game in great detail, he must also have experience.

To this day, my favorite commentary on coaching experience comes from Coach Gruden.  Not long before Gruden's Super Bowl victory over the Raiders (with the Bucs), Gruden granted an amazing interview where he discussed how a young guy like him could be an NFL head coach.  The most memorable part of the interview was when Gruden talked about all of the letters he receives from the hundreds of folks that want to come coach for him.

Gruden didn't cover up his amusement at some of the letters.  Many of them were from people who had played a lot of Madden NFL games, and (because they were undefeated or had won gaming Super Bowls) felt that they were ready for the fame and glory of NFL level coaching.

Madden is a wonderful franchise.  I like that it gets people interested in the game (who might not have otherwise considered an interest in football), and it does have a teaching value.  However, the down side of the games is that many people will play the games, then think themselves ready to make major decisions for a team ranging from drafting to drawing up plays.

Many of these folks would know nothing about how to set up a player in a proper stance.  Those that played high school ball might think they have the position coaching down, only to discover that the plays they would want to try out just don't work in actual practice.  (Anyone who has coached has has a kid come up to them with an idea for a play; and anyone who has coached knows why these plays look "neat" but aren't practical).

In fact, most (honest) coaches at the HS level will readily admit that the pro game is light years ahead of anything encountered at the HS level, and that one just isn't going to step in and coach with any success without years of experience.  As much as I know about football as a former coordinator, I admit that I would be lost at anything higher than a small college program.

However, I don't mean to sound elitist.  One doesn't need to know the game inside and out to get started in coaching.  There are three paths to coaching, and everyone starts somewhere.

First path to experience

One common way to start your coaching career is to volunteer at the youth level or to ask to volunteer for a local school team.  You don't have to be a coaching genius if you have the right disposition and a desire to learn.  If you are a regular reader of MHR, you would very likely make a fine youth coach to start out.

If you enjoy kids, want to be a good role model, and are more concerned with teaching than winning, give it a shot.  (BTW, good teachers lead to more wins than guys who can't teach).  This is an excellent way to learn more about the game, more about coaching, and a good way to make connections with school level coaches.

Second path to experience 

This option is less accessible to most people, but is a great way to get an inside track on coaching.  (It is the route I went).  Get a teaching license, and sign up for a team at your school.  Many schools have a union requirement that faculty have first dibs on any coaching jobs, regardless of how good an "outsider" can coach the team.  (I don't recommend bumping an outside coach though).

In my case, I was friends with a middle school coach at the school I taught at, and he asked me to come out and help coach.  I learned and worked my way up.  A lot of great HS coaches are faculty members, or used to be.

Third path to experience

Folks who have played at the college level, or are enrolled in athletic courses where they assist a team, have the most inside track of all.  Many NFL coaches started by playing at the college (then perhaps pro level), and/or took courses in sports at a college where they were required to intern or participate in an academic work/study program with a team.  After that, they got hired and went on from there.

But the bottom line is, nobody is going to just walk into the office of a HS or college athletic director, or an NFL owners office, and just get a job.  You must know the game, and you must know it inside and out.  Again, the knowledge required to coach can be picked up, but one is going to need to learn those skills through one of the paths above.




The funny thing is, all the technical proficiency in the world won't help you win ball games if you can't get the knowledge from YOU to the players.

Different players are made differently.  By this, I'm not talking about physical qualities, I'm talking about mental qualities.  It isn't even a matter of certain kids being "smarter" than other kids.  Here's the big secret to teaching - different kids learn in different ways, and if you can't identify what makes a kid tick, and if you can't adapt your teaching to that learning type, you won't get far in coaching, or at least as far as you could get.

Given my former MHR handle "hoosierteacher", and given my background in education, one might think that I was very teaching oriented as a coach.  Surprisingly (perhaps), I wasn't.  At the coordinator level, I was much more involved with teaching the teachers ("teaching the position coaches"), and ensuring that my portions of practice where conducted well by the assistants I had working for me.  The critical "teachers" are the coaches who are in the trenches with the kids - position coaches.  Many of these assistants are former players from the school, and some are folks making the move up from a youth program or lower level school (such as middle or jr. high).

However, you must be able to "teach teachers", and you must be able to step in when a position coach and a player need you help understanding a concept.




So you know what needs to be done, and you've communicated it well to the players or the assistants.  You still aren't done.  A team of physical specimens with a head full of football knowledge will still not win games if they aren't motivated.

A dominating opponent can kill you team if your kids don't believe they can win.  A team of players that arrives at your school and gets of the bus looking like a bunch of slobs (shirts un-tucked, horse playing, etc) may make your players too overconfident.  Too much rough practice may make a kid feel like "football isn't worth it", while wimpy practices don't build character or good programs.

A good coach must inspire his players.  He must know when to be calm in the face of adversity, and when to turn on the intensity.  He must not be afraid to raise his voice, but must know when a soft voice will get further.  He must know that there is a value in "psyching up the players", but realize that too much adrenaline can rob a kid of focus too.

A player is a combination of physical skills, mental skills, and spirit.  Often, spirit is what separates two teams.  A motivational coach knows how to build up spirit in his team.


Role Modeling 

What does this have to do with football?  Everything.

The standard you set as a role model will determine which kids will play for you.  If you denigrate the scholastic standards required by your program, you'll have kids failing off the team.  If you ignore character, your star players may end up missing games because of suspensions.  If you don't demand self-discipline, your players will commit costly penalties.

87f77dc814a61ce0_medium Courtesy- Bellingham Herald

If you are a solid role model, your kids will go to the gates of Hell and back to play hard for you.

At our school, we had a very organized, but very secretive program in place.  We researched which kids had families that didn't attend games, and made sure that someone would be at the game for that player.  It was done quietly so as not to offend parents who refused or couldn't otherwise get to a player's game.

Maybe a young man had no father in the home, and his drunk mother was shacked up across town with her boyfriend.  We knew this, because it was the same story every week.  Our art teacher (for example) would approach the player during school, mention her interest in seeing a game, and go to work.  She might tell the player that she and her husband would come to the game, and wanted to know the player's number so they could watch for him.  The coaching staff would arrange for the teacher and her husband to "run into" the player just before the game, to remind him that they came to see him play.  Names were covertly given to faculty members in the stands before games, so that players without a family cheering section heard themselves being cheered for by name.  We had about twenty faculty members who met regularly to coordinate these activities.  We called it the "adoption" program.

Nothing prepares you for this.

Go to fullsize image Courtesy - NY Daily News

It was crucial to us that every player knew he was being valued during a game, and that every player, whether he had family in attendance or not, had a family in attendance.

Our coaching staff was also heavily involved in crisis intervention training.  We met to discuss suspicions regarding drug use, abuse at home, academic problems, and suicide recognition.

Go to fullsize image Courtesy -

While much of what we did to watch out for our boys was done behind the scenes, the players knew that the coaching staff were watching out for them.  This isn't to say that we didn't have the standard yelling and gruffness that one might associate with a drill sergeant.  In fact, our head coach could be downright scary!  We also weren't above booting a kid that was ruining our program.  But if one of our kids was in trouble, even if he wasn't going to be playing for us anymore, we didn't leave him behind.




This is often the least favorite skill for a coach, but is required.  You better know how to organize a practice, and you better know how to coordinate each of the individuals and platoons in terms of where, when, and what.  Don't forget to place the orders for equipment, and to lobby for the importance of new shoulder pads.  Don't forget to meet with local business leaders to drum up some financial support, and to stay on the good side of the athletic director.  Team photos are tomorrow (remember to quietly cover the cost of players to poor to buy a set of photos).  The local paper is calling, and there's going to be an officials meeting at your field because their regular site was cancelled at the last minute (Crap!  That's during or field reps!)  One of the assistants showed up late (but he's a county councilman). 

This all comes up at the same time.  And now the school counselor call you to inform you that your star running back, the one who's mother doesn't attend the games, has just gone to the hosptial because his mother overdosed.


You're the coach, and you'll get it all done.  Practice will move to the middle school field across town, your DBs coach will cover the defense (because you've taught him well), the photos are all paid for in advance (the photo company will reimburse the team for players who pay), we'll fight for the shoulder pads at tomorow's meeting, and we'll tell the reporter to talk to the strength coach (our late councilman).  He can explain to them why he's late.

You (the corrdinator) and the head coach are going to stop by Mrs. Taylors (art teacher) house to get her and her husband, and then you're headed to the hospital.

You're going to win this Friday night.  In fact, you're going to run up the score against your hated rivals.  The media and the locals will see you at the top of your game, calling plays, and yelling at everybody that moves. 

But today, you're going to be there for one of your own.  Today, the soft voice is the one that is going to be heard.  You're the coach.

Capt Courtesy - Yahoo News