I have a read a lot of coaching texts over the years. And biographies. And autobiographies. I learnt a lot from all of them. But at some point, I started to become disheartened. In the books, the coaches did everything right, and never compromised. The players eventually saw the wisdom of the coach and did exactly as he wanted. The coach received the just rewards for his skill and wisdom. There seemed to be a huge disconnect between the world of coaching in the books I read and the one that I was experiencing personally.
But over time, I read different books and I learnt that not every player liked John Wooden. Or even respected him. I learnt that Bill Walsh didn’t dominate every season. Even though he was a genius. I learnt that Pep Guardiola let this players talk him into changing tactics. What?!? I learnt that Alex Ferguson put his team in the wrong hotel before a big match. Really?!? And most all I learnt that coaching is just like everything else worthwhile; a multifaceted activity that sometimes you get right and sometimes you get wrong and sometimes you don’t know why. I was reassured.
At this point in my life / career, the books that interest me the most are ones like Platonov’s book. Resources that highlight the craft of coaching and talk about the practicalities of it. The best current resource for that is San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. I recently came across a video of a clinic he gave to coaches in Berlin a couple of years ago. It is great, no bullshit advice for coaches. The main takeaway? Choose character. And if you are wrong about someone’s character? Get rid of them and start again. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes. Or you can watch the whole video below. Or both.
On working with jerks – “You want to enjoy yourself. Seasons are long. There are lots of different situations that you are in. You wake up in the morning, you’re a grown man or a grown woman, you want to spend your day with jerks? You want to hate yourself when you go to practice because you have to put up with this idiot? … Get rid of them. Start at the basic bottom line of character.”
On responding to winning and losing – “Bust your ass, do the best you can do, … and go for a beer.”
On responding to winning and losing – “If you win, act like you do it all the time and you didn’t do anything special. If you lose go back to work, try figure it out.”
On timeouts – “The players go to the bench and I bring the coaches out here, and we talk, and make the owner think we know what we’re doing. That we’re thinking about some strategy that’s really cool and we’re just talking about where we’re going to go to dinner after the game. Sometimes you gotta play the game a little bit.”
On timeouts – “You think everything you say (in a timeout) is gonna make them better. They’re not gonna get better during that game! You’re just wasting your time. So instead of telling them six things … Pick something!”
On timeouts – “I think timeouts are really important. They calm guys down… Do what you gotta do. Briefly! Succinctly. The let them go back and play.”
On standing back during a timeout… “It helps some guys be better leaders because they don’t want to say some things in front of the coach… They’ll talk to each other a whole lot more if they’re together than if we’re over them all the time.”
On goal setting – “That process. That pride in work on a daily basis is what grows the spirit and what grows the character and what makes them feel like… they deserve to win the championship. Your team has to feel like they deserve it. Like they worked harder than everybody else… the mental as much as the physical part.”
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.