NGSC Sports

Football Fabulosa – Coaching Characteristics of Great Coaches

Seasons greetings! As 2013 winds down I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy holiday season. Thank you for reading my weekly column and I hope to bring more topics of interest to you in 2014. Speaking of seasons, tis the season for coaching changes as the playoff pictures are becoming clear and the teams that didn’t fare well sit back and evaluate the reasons why. This brings me to my topic of the week and that is what makes a good coach and whether there are any common denominators. The short answer is yes there are definitely characteristics that reign supreme among the greats.

When you look across various sports you see a lot of variance in coaching styles, demeanor, and attitude toward their players. So exactly what is it that makes a coach great? Winning obviously is the gold standard but doing the course of a coaching career you are going to lose some games. What other qualities do good coaches have? Is there a winning formula that definitely answers this question? I took a look of some of history’s greatest coaches, starting with the best in John Wooden.

In looking at the career’s and mindset of the greatest coaches, I came to believe there are certain traits that define the best coaches. The ability to teach is one very strong characteristic of a great coach. No one exemplifies that better than John Wooden. Wooden was a model of consistency at UCLA , compiling a 29 Year career with a 664-162 record and an unparalleled .804 W-L% winning percentage. However, there is no one better than Coach who can tell us why he was so successful.

Wooden is perhaps no finer example of a coach who first and foremost was a teacher. Wooden was both an English teacher and a coach and clearly he valued both. They tend to go hand in hand but Wooden was also a great communicator. He has a quality that all great teachers possess and that is the ability to connect with his audience. Like most great teachers, Wooden understood and preached patience as well. Furthermore, like most great teachers, he understood the value of being committed to details. Another great example here is longtime Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski

Finally, you can just tell Wooden cares about his subject and his audience. You cannot teach if you do not love and Wooden did both to perfection. Eddie Robinson, another great coach, also possessed this quality. Wooden connected with his players because he cared about them as people and sought to teach them lessons far beyond the court. His team was his extended family and he wanted them to exhibit strength not only on the playing court but in their character.

Clearly Wooden placed great value on accountability and that is also a theme you find among great coaches. Perhaps no greater example of a coach who preached accountability can be found besides the second greatest coach of all time Vince Lombardi. Lombardi took over a downtrodden Green Bay Packers team and led them to 5 NFL Championships including 2 Superbowl wins. As an NFL coach, his all time winning percentage was .738. In the playoffs he was .900.

Lombardi was a tireless worker and demanded the same out of his players. His training camps were legendarily hard and grinding. He pushed himself and others to be great and it worked. Lombardi’s trademark was strength and domination and his players were mentally and physically both. He was the ultimate competitor and he demanded selflessness from his players. Maybe he just says it best.

“In order to succeed, this group will need a singleness of purpose, they will need a dedication, and they will have to convince all of their prospects of the willingness to sacrifice.” Vince Lombardi

As much as Lombardi was a competitor, modern sports fans might more closely identify with another great coach who was also a great competitor. No one exemplifies competitor more than longtime Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt. It’s no fluke she also exemplifies the traits I already discussed either. Summitt’s career winning percentage was .840 and she was .829 in the NCAA championships. She won 16 out of 32 SEC Championships and 16 out of 32 SEC Tournament Titles. I could write a column simply on the list of accolades she possesses.

Nothing better describes Summitt’s teams more than discipline and accountability. Cut more in the mold of Lombardi than Wooden, she was teacher, motivator and disciplinarian. Like Lombardi, her teams were mentally and physically strong. Like Wooden though, she commanded the attention of her audience albeit in a different manner. Summitt was a great communicator and never afraid to express what was on her mind. She was tough as nails and so were her teams. She continues to show these traits as she battles another enemy off the court.

Finally, Summitt was an innovator and architect which is the last great common coaching trait I found during my research. You would be hard pressed to find a better example of another innovator than New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Throughout his 28 year coaching career in the NFL, Belichick has a winning percentage of .652. As head coach of the New England Patriots, he has posted a .725 winning record. He is the only NFL head coach to win 3 Superbowl championships in a 4 year span.

Innovation comes with it the understanding and ability to learn and Belichick does this best of all. He has great analytic skills as well. There may not be a better coach with the ability to study and dissect a team in order to formulate a winning gameplan. This is also a trait displayed by Wooden and Summitt. Like Wooden and Summitt, Belichick places value on discipline, physicality and mental fortitude. He gives great attention to detail. His teams are generally regarded as tough and well prepared. He is also a great talent evaluator no doubt sparked by his own attention to detail.

Many think of Belichick as less than a great communicator but I would respectfully disagree. He clearly doesn’t enjoy dealing with the media very much but he manages to communicate in ways only those great communicators can do. His press conferences are legendary. For the most part, his players enjoyed playing for him. Throughout the years, players have remained incredibly loyal to Belichick. Only a great communicator can engender that kind of loyalty.

The best coaches exhibit the qualities that Wooden, Summitt and Belichick represent. They are great teachers and communicators. They value toughness and discipline. They emphasize attention to detail. More often than not they care about their players beyond what takes place on the playing field or court. Above all else, they hold players accountable.

“No player is bigger than the team.”

Football Fabulosa – Coaching Characteristics of Great Coaches

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