by Coach Dave Kenson
I began coaching in 1970 and retired in 2014. I spent twenty-five years as a head football coach and also coached basketball for thirty years. While I was never a head basketball coach, I was always a “head” coach. I coached from the neck up. X’s and O’s are important, but almost every coach has a good working knowledge in that area. Often the deciding factors in a team’s success are thought process and attitude.
The first step is understanding the definition of “coaching”. In the words of former NFL coach, Tom Landry, “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you’ve always known you could be.” The parents and friends of the player will tell him what he wants to hear. They see his performance from the perspective that his perceived success is more important than the team’s success. A parent sees their son/daughter as a perfect athlete with no improvement needed. The coach must affect the necessary changes by making his players “uncomfortable” in practice.
The next step is to answer the question, “What is practice”. Practice is controlled failure. Practice is about making, correcting, and understanding mistakes and then accomplishing the new way of doing things through improved repetition. It is about not allowing players to do what they want to do (what is easy and comfortable) and making them do what they need to do (what is difficult and uncomfortable). The coach must utilize constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is the calling attention to mistakes by someone (the coach) who cares about the player’s and the team’s success. Once corrections are made, growth occurs in the individual and the team, and they can accomplish more than they believed was possible. In the new movie, “First Man”, the actor portraying Neil Armstrong says about the moon landing mission, “We have to fail down here so we don’t fail up there.” You have to fail in practice so you don’t fail in the game.
To create failure in practice, genuine competition has to take place. It won’t happen if the starters are working against players who do not have the attitude, effort or talent to cause mistakes. Attitude and effort are essential requirements for EVERYONE on the team, and if they have both of those qualities, talent will come through growth. If the coach is not blessed with the depth of players who can provide genuine competition for the starters, then he must break practice down into smaller unit work utilizing ones against ones.
Finally, a coach and his players must realize what the path to success and reaching goals looks like. Growth has to be continuous. This means that mistakes and failures are going to occur in practice and sometimes in the games. When failures occur, the coach must not allow himself or his players to become discouraged. He and his team must understand that it is part of the process. The road to success is not paved evenly. There will be upward spurts and backward steps along the way. KEEP GOING!