All of us have had good coaches, bad coaches, and those in between throughout our athletic careers, no matter how short or long those careers may have been. And we all know the important role that coaches play in shaping our attitudes towards competition, teamwork, and the game itself. And one constant remains true, whether you are a coach, or a developer of coaches, and no matter how young or old your players are:
Nobody is going to listen to a word you say…
…you model the behavior or attitude you are seeking.
Think about it…Jesus didn’t just talk the talk and not walk the walk. He backed up his big talk with the miraculous things he did because he knew the hearts of those he was with were hard. The same is true of athletes today, young and old, amateur and professional. The days of being revered and respected as a coach just because you have a whistle around your neck are gone. Today’s athletes, and parents, want to see that you can do more than just talk X’s and O’s. They want to see their son improve his jump shot, their daughter improve her weak hand…and maybe, most importantly…they want to know you care about them as individuals, whether they would admit that or not.
The best coach I’ve ever had was a basketball coach named Dick Bennett. He was my college coach for just one year at Green Bay, before he moved on to the University of Wisconsin and took them to the Final Four in 2000. He is a legend in the state of Wisconsin, and highly respected in the coaching fraternity around the country. And though I only was able to play for him for one year before he moved on, I learned one valuable lesson: You have to model your priorities in your everyday life, not just talk about them. Coach Bennett was a passionate coach who sometimes let his emotions and competitive nature get the best of him. But never did one of these episodes pass without him sitting the individual or the team down and speaking to them face to face and apologizing for any of his actions that were not consistent with the rest of the man you knew. He also modeled his faith in God through his actions, not just his words. On Sunday’s that we were on the road or had an early practice for some reason, he would invite anyone on the team to his office for a Bible study time and share with us what God was teaching him. And though I wouldn’t even say I was a Christian at the time, this prioritizing of his time showed me a great deal that there was more to this man than just his knowledge of great man-to-man defense. And this small gesture of matching his actions with his words has stuck with me for over 15 years, and continues to challenge me to do the same.
So as each of us are given the opportunity to coach a team, or develop coaches in any way, remember that they are not going to listen to what you say until they see that you care about them beyond the sport, and that you are being consistent with what you do…as well as what you say.