Alexander Smith, 50, is an accountant by day and a youth baseball coach in the evenings for Forest Hill Baseball, in Forest Hill, Va. He encourages his seven and eight year-old players with positive reinforcement and plenty of high-fives. His teams may not always win the game, but they always sign-up for another season with coach Smith. He’s a fan of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, who won a total of 11 National Championships in college basketball.
Randy Edsall, the head football coach at the University of Maryland, runs his team with very strict rules, little compassion, and he often times berates his players on the sidelines while on national television. His first year as the Terrapins head coach yielded only two victories, and 20 players have left the football program since he took over in January 2011. Edsall however, claims he is mimicking a system and an attitude that helped New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin win a Super Bowl.
It’s confusing to know which coaching style to mirror when it seems as though every time you turn on Sportscenter there is an example of a fiery coach getting lots of attention. Exciting to watch on TV, but is this sound and effective coaching?
Many argue these coaches are just acting fiery and exuberant for the good of their team. We’ve all seen the baseball manager kick dirt on the umpire for making a bad call, or the football coach grab a player’s facemask because he missed a block, but do these tactics actually work to motivate players? Recently, academic research studies on leadership show these types of coaches are ineffective.
Robert Hogan, a psychologist who profiles executives for Fortune 500 companies, recently told the Washington Post that studies in leadership have failed because they focus “on the leader, when the appropriate focus is on the followers.” Hogan concludes the question that should be asked is, “what is it the followers are looking for?”
Hogan offered four personality traits all coaches must possess if they want their teams to follow them. Here we examine those traits:
Integrity:Players will follow a coach when he is honest. Even if the honesty is brutal, players see this attribute as having high moral character. Integrity in a coach can bring the team together and create a sense of unity because the players know the coach is looking out for their best interest.
Integrity coaches can still be demanding, but they hold themselves accountable for their own responsibilities, and never make excuses for their failings.
Confidence: Players are reassured when the coach is confident in his style and how he manages the team. On a subconscious level, confidence is translated as competence, and this will create even more trust.
Players will never follow a coach who isn’t self-assured of his own abilities. Coaches should always come to practice and games prepared and with a plan. Knowing what to do in different situations will boost your confidence.
Decision-Making: A decisive coach exudes confidence and this will cause his players to act and respond to direction. If the coach is indecisive he will come off as weak, unsure of himself, and the team will question the coach’s competency.
This doesn’t exactly mean the coach has to make quick decisions, but he should be firm in his stance and never waver on a decision. It’s ok to reevaluate a decision later, but never go into anything with one foot in, and one foot out.
Clarity: Structuring your dialogue so everyone understands where you stand on a topic or decision will cause the team to gravitate towards your leadership. It is important to be rational, logical, and appeal to the players on their own level of intelligence.
Sometimes in football a complex offense can help a team gain more yards and score a ton of touchdowns. This however, is only successful if those players can handle the specifics of the playbook. Other times a football team will have success because they simply scaled back their playbook and concentrated on a few good plays to run.
Retired coach Phil Jackson has won more NBA titles than anyone else in professional basketball and he did so with two different teams. He once said, “Love is the force that ignites the spirit and binds teams together.” Ultimately, athletes have the need to feel important, wanted, and when they step onto the field there must be a coach who will support them in their efforts. Trust is a key component in any relationship and that dynamic between the player and coach isn’t any different.
Coach Smith may not have the multi-million dollar contract that Edsall has, and he won’t be interviewed by ESPN after his games. But Smith understands the importance of his leadership. There is more to it then wins and loses. Smith lives by an old Dwight Eisenhower saying, “You don’t lead people by hitting them over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.”