Coaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Athletes learn from their coach’s actions and look to them as role models. According to a study by Denver University, coaches can motivate their athletes by showing them purpose and helping to remind them of their why.
After a losing season for the University of Colorado Buffaloes football team, winning only one game in the year, a change in the head coaching role was essential.
As a collegiate athlete, I understand that a losing record reflects both the players on the field and the culture of the program.
NFL Hall of Fame player Deion Sanders was perfect for the job. The back-to-back Southwestern Athletic Conference coach of the year and two-time Super Bowl champion knew how to win.
The head coaching role is not limited to picking the starting lineup, facilitating drills at practice or speaking during timeouts. A head coach of a winning program must have hard conversations such as asking players to enter the transfer portal.
“I don’t care about culture. I don’t even care if they like each other, I want to win,” said Sanders during the Colorado Buffaloes fall sports media day.
Team culture is defined by a team’s collective attitude toward winning and what it is inclined to do to beat its opponent together. Sanders set expectations for his team’s culture and, as a winner himself, he does not expect less from his players.
Growing up as an athlete in many sports, I had to deal with a handful of coaches throughout the years.
During my second year of college volleyball, I was playing libero at our conference tournament and our team was down two sets. After the intermission, my head coach told me to switch jerseys and told my teammate to wear the libero jersey.
I remember I was crushed, getting subbed out of a game felt like the end of the world. But I asked myself what is the end goal here? Winning.
I respected my coach’s decision to pull me from the starting spot if I wasn’t performing for the team because he wanted to win. In that moment he would do whatever it took to win.
A great head coach is defined by their ability to pull successful individuals together resulting in a high-performing team. Their role is to develop players, not just their athletic ability, but as future leaders in the community and workplace. The responsibility to set goals for their athletes and demand greatness from them every day is not an easy job.
As coaching moments present themselves, acting with respect and empathy creates a supportive environment for athletes to learn. The relationship between a player and a coach must be a safe place to learn from mistakes.
I experienced this environment in my freshman year of high school when I was forced to play a different position, due to team injuries. I made an ignorant comment insinuating I would rather be on the bench than playing as a right-side hitter.
I immediately regretted what I had said, but it was too late. The next day my coach called a team meeting to address a comment on the bench that disappointed him last night.
I apologized to everyone for what I said, and it was a big learning moment for me. By holding me accountable for my comment, he gave me the space to reflect on my actions and recognize I was putting my needs above the team’s.
Before every game, he would say the phrase, “It’s a privilege to be on the court, not a right.”
As the program leader, the coach must be held to a higher standard because their actions and words affect the mentality of their athletes. Coaches have the power to destroy or enrich their athletes’ love of the game.
Athletics have provided a unique opportunity to learn life lessons about teamwork and resiliency every day. Whether it’s during practice or while traveling to an away game, I am constantly absorbing information from my coaches about how to become a better player and, most importantly, a better person.
It may start on a volleyball court, but the impact of a tenacious coach lasts far beyond those 180 feet.