As athletics have grown in general the level of competition in high school football has risen dramatically. Better athletes, stricter rules, higher scores, larger crowds, increased college scholarships and increased complexity in schemes are all bi-products of the growth. However, this increased competitiveness has also lead to higher stakes and in some cases a lack of perspective from coaches.
Most coaches enjoy coaching and working with kids, helping them wherever they might go, doing everything they can to help their team reach lofty goals. They understand that football is a medium through which we can learn other lessons like perseverance, teamwork, and character. It's a way to teach young men the value of hard work and to possibly open doors to future opportunities. A lot of coaches aren't even just looking out for their own kids but for all the kids. Coaches are here to help kids reach goals, and one coach has a connection that can help a kid from an opponent often the coach will agree to help. I encountered that this past year season on one particular example; one coach offered to call a few college coaches on behalf of a receiver from the opposing team. He was genuinely wanting to help an opponent and help all kids reach their goals.
This type of behavior accounts for a large percentage of high school coaches - coaching for the right reasons, helping kids become good football players and even better people, giving help wherever they can. Unfortunately, there is a leftover percentage of coaches who don't always see things that way. They coach for ego, so they can feel like Vince Lombardi amongst their town. They consistently yell at the kids for making mistakes instead of coaching them how to do it better. Their own bravado and pride becomes more important than the kids and any shot to those traits becomes personal.
I've seen it too much over the last 5 years or so; a coach has an opportunity to help a kid, but because the coach felt slighted in some way he turned it down. He only looks out for his favorite players, doesn't uphold his word, and carries himself with less class than we would hope for. It's unfortunate that two kids at different high schools could have drastically different experiences based on who their coaches are. One kid could have wildly positive experience and learn life values, the other could feel consistently down-trodden and beaten. One could be well coached, prepared for every game, and develop confidence. The other could end up working on fundamentals on his own, struggle through college camps, practices and games as he falls through the cracks, and develop insecurity.
With that in mind, my hope is that the percentage high school coaches that have forgotten their role can begin to remember what it is they are there for. Help the kids, all the kids, not just the ones you like or who suck up to you. Carry yourself with class at all times, teach positive values and develop good young men, not just football players. Keep football in perspective with grades and personal character, and be unwilling to sacrifice a child's future values to earn a quick win right now. Push the kids to get better and give them the best opportunity to succeed on and off the field. Do your best for every kid, both on your team, on a rivals team, and elsewhere. These are, after all, kids, who need guidance and leadership, role models and life lessons. Everything you do becomes a learned behavior for those you lead.
Here's to hoping every kid will benefit from their coach, and every coach learns to work only for good.
Leadership: Behavior Theory
The rivalry of Ohio State and Michigan goes well beyond the sports fields – it extends into the classroom, and in this particular example, into leadership research. Both schools conducted study on what qualities comprise a leader. They both compiled huge, long lists of the behaviors a leader could show, and began to try to categorize those behaviors into categories. And, both schools narrowed it down to two categories, coined by Ohio State as “Personal Consideration” and “Initiating Structure.” These terms are now largely referred
to as Concern for People and Concern for Product, as seen on Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid. Essentially, these studies showed that leader behaviors can either be directed at developing relationships and showing concern for followers, or be directed towards reaching an end goal, to accomplishing the task. Michigan initially stipulated that those two behaviors were indirectly linked, meaning if a leader was good at one, they were bad at the other. They were wrong, and eventually adapted to see these items as separate, so that a leader could be good at one and not the other, be good at both, or be bad at both. That basic premise is what leads to Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid.
While this leadership theory does not relate itself perfectly to effective leadership, it starts taking a step in that direction. If a leader has both concern for the product and concern for the people it is considered the optimal leadership style. The leader who cares only for production and not for the individuals involved is considered a drill sergeant. The leader who cares only about the people, and not about the organization’s effectiveness is called a “country club” leader. Those who lack concern for both product and people is referred to as impoverished.
This does relate to football quite well – a coach like Bill Belichick would very much be considered a drill sergeant. A coach like Tony Dungy might be considered a bit more of a balanced leader. And, those coaches who only care about the players, and not about the outcome, and more well suited to younger levels of football, where the stakes aren’t quite as high and individual empathy is more important.
I would highly encourage anyone interested in leadership theory to look up Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid, and read through their questionnaire on determining concern for product and concern for people.
Leadership: Skills Theory
The next installment of leadership posts is going to focus on what the researcher Katz referred to as Skills Theory. His basic premise was that instead of focusing on personality traits, as the last post discussed, we should focus on skill sets. The strengths of an individual would be indicative of leadership ability, or lack thereof.
Katz broke down skills into three different categories: conceptual, interpersonal, and technical. Conceptual skills were essentially the ability to see the big picture, to understand how items fit within the larger scheme. Interpersonal skills were the ability to develop and maintain good relationships. Technical skills were the ability to do the more detailed, inner-workings of a process, like installing car parts on an assembly line.
The end result of Katz’s theory was that those with great conceptual skills, but lacking the technical skills, were better suited to upper management type positions, executives who didn’t have to work in the trenches, but who could fit the different pieces of the process together. On the other hand, people with great technical skills, but lacking conceptual skills, were better suited to be in the front lines, working with the details of the process. People who
possessed all three skill sets were best suited for middle management, acting as the bridge between the technically inclined and the conceptually inclined.
One point of note in Katz’s research is that not only did his system on finding out an individual’s skills look at their ability, but also at their desire for that particular skill. He didn’t just ask if they were good at technical work, he asked if they liked technical work. This does make it difficult to interpret results at times, as what someone is good at is not always what they want.
How does this relate to football or sports in general? A head football coach, according to Katz, would need to be very conceptual, focused on the bigger picture. A position coach, on the other hand, would need to be more technically inclined, able to install the small pieces and details of the system. A coordinator should possess both conceptual and technical skills, as it will be their job to make sure the two match.
While Katz’s research does provide more insight versus the trait theory, it really is not a good indicator of leadership ability, rather, just what sort of position a person is best suited for. The upcoming theories help delve deeper into leadership and how to analyze effective leadership.
Leadership: Trait Theory
This entry marks the first of a few entries on leadership theories. The idea is to present a few different theories on the topic, and allow readers to take what pieces they like from each. No one theory is definitively right or wrong, or even comprehensive in nature, but they each allow some insight into what makes a good leader.
This entry is going to talk about trait theory, which is based on a very simple concept: leaders possess certain traits. This line of research and discussion gained momentum around WWII, as there was an interest in what made a good military officer or leader. Initially, traits were very straightforward; being tall, strong, attractive, having a deep voice and other similar items were considered beneficial for leadership. These traits certainly help cast a good first impression, however, it is quite obvious to see that they do not carry muster much beyond that without the good to back them up.
Trait theory has since that point developed into more of a personality inventory. Tests like the Myers-Briggs and NEO-PI identify the personality traits of an individual, which help indicate what roles the individual would be well suited for, including leadership. Many organizations use this for incoming employees, team building, role distribution, and other purposes, and with some level of success. It is a good tool. However, most leadership experts will tell you in isn’t necessarily a great test of leadership.
The next few entries will discuss some more leadership theories that will help better uncover the sort of leader an individual might be.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below or email me at adrayson@SportPerformanceU.com.
The Role of the Coach
This blog article will about the role of the football coach. Before we get into the principles, I feel I should add a disclaimer that this is an opinionated entry – these are my own personal feelings, so please, take them as you see fit.
The first and most important role of the coach is role model. This is true for any level of football, from Pop Warner to the NFL. Coaches have a very profound and unique impact on their players, and by extension the community around them. This impact can be good or bad, depending on the values and principles he instills in his players. Before any of us are football players, or coaches, or fans, or businessmen, or anything else, we are people, and our greatest responsibility lies in treating other people properly. Football coaches have a visibility above that of most others within the community, and when that visibility is used to present a hardworking, disciplined, high character individual, the community benefits. Furthermore, a team full of hardworking, disciplined, high character individuals is likely to be a good team; winning will take care of itself when the individuals involved have the right mindset.
The second role is as a trusted teacher. It is a coach’s responsibility to pass down the correct information. When an athlete hears a coach’s instruction, those words become law. The coach must seek out the right information. A coach who teaches fundamentals incorrectly, schemes incorrectly, conditions his players incorrectly, is doing a disservice to his players. A coach must be objective and proactive in seeking out the best coaching methods. Don’t be stuck in the past, using methods of yesteryear, because your players are members of a different era, one with more available research, science, and empirical data to improve the level of coaching.
The third role of the coach is to help the team achieve success. This is ranked last for two reasons. First, I believe it is less important than showing character and coaching the players properly. A coach who wins, but in doing so promotes bad character, a lack of discipline, and other undesirable traits, is really doing more harm to his team than good. A coach who sacrifices fundamentals and proper scheming for a win is really not setting a good foundation for future success; he is likely to fail sooner or later, even if he won early on by taking shortcuts instead of teaching good football. The second reason achieving success is third is because if the first two things get taken care of, winning will come easily. That said, achieving success is most certainly part of the coach’s job, one of the three roles I would list under their job description.
So, what are the roles of a coach?
1) Be a role a model, a benefit to the community.
2) Teach players the right way to play the game.
3) Lead the team to success.
Those are three thing I would list, and in that order.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.