Every coach has a coaching philosophy even if they don’t sit down and plan out what it is. If you asked a youth coach to describe their philosophy, you’d likely get a wide variety of responses. This is because they lack a consistent way to describe their preferences as a coach.
I have observed three major components of coaching philosophies. The component(s) the coach chooses to focus on are what define the coach’s style and guides their actions. These three major components are winning, development, and fun. Let’s examine each one.
This component ought to be self-explanatory. Everyone knows what it means to win and to be on a winning team. Some coaches have built their coaching philosophy around this as their primary goal. You can often recognize coaches that focus on winning because they will have the following characteristics:
- Judging the success of the team based on the win-loss record.
- Sitting kids on the bench for extended periods of time to play the lineup with the most potential to win.
- Arguing with or yelling at the officials, other coaches or kids on the team when the game does not go their way.
- Using tactics within the rules but borderline unsportsmanlike to get the win. This is sometimes referred to as bush league tactics.
- Punishing the players for losing or making mistakes. Punishments often come in the form of extra conditioning.
Even though winning seems like a great thing, parents and players can experience some drawbacks when working with a win-focused coach. The most obvious drawback will be in playing time. Especially at a younger age, playing time can be extremely beneficial. If the coach is very focused on the win, players may be missing out on a lot of opportunities to learn. This can also annoy the parents who come to the games to see their own kids play. It may not end up being the most enjoyable season for the player and their family.
The term development typically refers to personal athletic development, but my use of the term is more broad. I use development to mean improvement of individual skills, teamwork and game-time strategies. Coaches whose primary goal is development will likely exhibit the following actions:
- Efforts focus on the future skill of the players. You may hear the coach state their goal is to help build the best high school team in four, six, etc. years
- There is a large emphasis on practice and repetition. Practices are probably frequent and focus on skills and drills.
- Expecting players to work on additional skills and drills at home. An example is asking players to shoot 100 free throws per day at home.
- Encouraging players to attend practices, clinics or open gyms in the off-season.
Development-focused coaches often expect a large commitment of time from the players which can be a difficult burden for them and their families. Long practices and at-home work not only requires time, but can also lead to overuse of muscles, soreness, and even injury.
Development coaches also assume that players will be content practicing even if they don’t see extensive game time. Like the win-focused coach, this can lead to a lack of playing time and frustration by players and parents.
The fun coach is likely to tell parents they don’t care whether the team wins or loses as long as the kids have fun. We’ve probably all heard this from some coach at a start-of-the-season meeting. Fun is an extremely important part of playing sports. After all, sports are just games created to fill recreational time. Coaches that are overly focused on fun may display the following traits:
- Positive attitude towards the players regardless of the situation.
- May not be extremely knowledgeable of the game or may be new to coaching in general.
- Lack of structure for practices. Practices may involve large chunks of unorganized play time.
- In games, there is little thought given to positioning of the players or a game strategy.
- Losing games becomes the accepted norm.
There are plenty of good aspects to a coach that knows how to have fun. Maybe most importantly, they know how to foster positive relationships with and between the players on the team. Having fun also helps kids want to keep coming to practices and games; especially at the youngest age groups.
Being too focused on fun can also have some negative impacts. Most notably, the team is likely to be outclassed as they play others. Other teams will look more prepared and more organized leading to a low win rate. (The exception being when they face off against another fun-focused coach). Repeated losses and disorganization can be tiresome on a player and the parents. They aren’t likely to have the wonderful experience the coach had intended.
One Dimension Coaches
The above descriptions describe coaches that are relatively one-dimensional. While it’s unlikely that many coaches only focus on only a single component, most coaches tend to favor one of them which essentially makes them one-dimensional. Thankfully, we are all here to learn how to be better coaches and being one-dimensional isn’t the answer.
If you’ve ever worked with a coach whose philosophy was too focused on one component, leave a comment to let us know how your experience went.