What’s Your Why?

  • June 13, 2017


Some thoughts from Coaching Better Every Season by Wade Gilbert

Most coaching books start with a discussion of the importance of creating a coaching philosophy and follow up with a section on creating goals. But to define a coaching philosophy and set goals, you must first understand and express why you coach and what principles will guide how you coach.

A coaching purpose defines why you do what you do; it is your fundamental reason for being (a coach). Your purpose also represents your motivations for coaching. Coaches by nature are competitive and driven to succeed. This attribute combined with outside pressure from others to win can easily cause coaches to lose sight of their true purpose. A traumatic life moment is often the trigger that causes a coach to pause and reflect on the why. For three-time national college football champion coach Urban Meyer, a combination of dealing with serious health issues and listening to his daughter speak at a public ceremony caused him to realize how absent he had become from her life. For renowned high school football coach Joe Erhmann, the moment came while attending his brother’s funeral. In his deeply personal account of how he discovered his coaching purpose, Coach Erhmann explains how he came to identify his true purpose as a coach: “‘My Why’: I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible, and change the world for good.”

Whereas clarity of coaching purpose serves as a beacon for navigating the choppy waters of coaching, core values are the expectations and standards that coaches and their athletes use to hold each other accountable and build a culture of excellence. Some coaches such as Hall of Fame professional basketball coach Pat Riley describe a team’s core values as a covenant or agreement that holds teams together. Successful coaches ensure that the program core values are clearly aligned with their coaching purpose.

One of the most successful coaches of the 21st century is professional football coach Bill Belichick. His coaching purpose was formed early in life, perhaps even as young as 6 years old when he eagerly helped his father, a college football coach at the time, analyze game film. His coaching purpose is rooted deeply in the pursuit of excellence and a love of football. The single core value that has long served as the guiding principle for all the teams he has coached is summed up in the simple mantra “Do your job!” Unwavering commitment to this core value is demonstrated through relentless preparation, incredible attention to details, a team-first attitude, and an intense work ethic.

You will know you have found your coaching purpose when your purpose is inseparable from who you are as a person. For example, all-time winningest college baseball coach Augie Garrido once said, “I coach baseball to its core because it is in my core.” Your purpose and core values, then, serve as a window into your coaching soul – the essence or embodiment of who you are as a coach and why you coach.

The most effective coaches are acutely sensitive to this basic concept. In fact, 11-time professional basketball championship coach Phil Jackson includes the word soul in the title of his best-selling book about how to coach championship teams. Coach Jackson explains that his purpose and core values are grounded in his deeply held concern for connecting with athletes and creating what might be considered an enlightened basketball environment – one in which he helps athletes find personal meaning in the sport experience.

A coaching purpose and core values do not need to be validated by others. A purpose and values are right if they are personally meaningful and inspirational. Together, your purpose and core values make up what is sometimes referred to as your core ideology – your enduring character and identity as a coach. Your core ideology as a coach matters because it gives meaning to your work and has the power to ignite passion and sustain the long-term commitment required to become an effective coach.

Copyright © 2017 by Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. Excerpted by permission of Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. Available to order from Human Kinetics Canada at www.humankinetics.com or by calling 1-800-465-7301.

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Coach Responses

Why do you coach?

What is your core ideology?

How does your coaching purpose align with your program’s core values?

Share your tips and best practices!

Coach Maria – Soccer – Vaughan – 8 Years

“…I coach to inspire! I want my athletes to leave my session or match feeling inspired to develop and push themselves when they come next time. My core ideology is self-reflection after any coach moment. I take the time after a match or session to reflect in my car over what went well and what I can do next time. My coaching purpose aligns with my programs core values because I want to inspire female athletes to fall in the love with the game like I have and continue to do every time I step on to that field…”

Coach Dalls – Rugby – Toronto – 6 Years

“…I don’t make strong girls for rugby, I use rugby to make strong girls. Strength can be defined many different ways, but is almost always a positive. Young girls are constantly bombarded by expectations to be, to act, to feel, to react a certain way. Whether this is defined by culture, the media, their peers or history. One of the most powerful modes for change is a strong woman. I believe physical strength translates to emotional and mental strength because it takes the last 2 to create the first one. Strength to stand up to bullies. Strength to say no to unwanted advancements. Strength to speak your opinion. Strength to go after a job. Strength to get up after you failed a thousand times. Strength to keep moving forward when all you feel is pain. I coach rugby because the lessons I teach my girls are for life. My core values are Respect, Humility, Fun, Integrity, Trust, Camaraderie. These come before winning. These are why the best players will not start if they do not align themselves with my philosophy. These are why, my girls know that whether it’s rugby related, school related or personal life related, their well being, health, safety and happiness are my number 1 concern. I coach to create a generation of fierce women, in every sense of the word…”

Coach Kevin – Athletics – Oakville

“…I believe a Coach is also responsible for educating their athletes and giving them the tools and resources that will best serve their goals while continually educating themselves with any resources available. My philosophy is to create training plans and workouts that help any Athlete become more versatile and adaptable for any situation so they are prepared for their big race and any thing that could happen. I also also actively promote injury prevention, recovery and that any athlete need only do the least amount of work to get the best results where running or biking one more Mile won’t do anything to better their fitness. This help my coaching purpose align with the LTAD model, Sport for Life values and Having Fun and accomplishing your goals! Being a coach keeps me involved in the sports I love while also being able to educate and help others accomplish their goals…”

Coach Neale – Rugby, Alpine Ski – Ottawa – 25 Years

“…Asking yourself “why?” is a vital step to solidify your coaching philosophy. Why are you there? Why are your athletes there? Why do parents choose your program to develop their children? Seeking out answers to these questions and being open to have those answers adapt over time will help you to develop your own set of core values to underpin your coaching philosophy. My coaching philosophy, boiled down to it’s most simple terms, is “to render myself obsolete.” This does not mean I do not want to coach. This is not meant to be self-deprecating or trite. Quite the opposite. I strive to have participants take risks. I strive to create an environment where athletes can try, fail, and try again. I strive to develop an environment for learning, an environment for questioning, and an environment for reflecting. I strive to encourage athletes to take ownership for their learning, their development, and their success. The athletes themselves define their own success. I am their to support, guide, and encourage. Ultimately as a coach, my goal is to have the athlete succeed on their own. My coaching journey is a work in progress. It always will be…”

Coach Dan – Rugby, Wrestling, Nordic Ski – 25 Years

“…I have been an educator for nearly 25 years. Coaching has always just been an element of being being a teacher for me. Its what my teachers did it is what I thought was part of the job when I contemplated joining the profession. Within my main sport/rugby I have tried to be a student of the game and the longer i did this the more realized I have so much more to learn. The one thing i can impart is that athletes or students who like being around each other will find success in some form. Team building in both individual and team sport will make a program stronger and more rewarding. Happy coaching!…”

Coach Susannah – Curling – Ajax – 23 Years

“…I coach competitive and non-competitive curling. I work with U21 youths for competition and anyone that wants to curl. The reason I coach is I love curling and I want to enable as many people to enjoy it as possible. I coach youth competitive teams because I enjoy watching them grow as a curler and a person. Besides the technical skills, it is very important to me to teach them to be fair, courteous, respectful and generous. It is a joy to watch them become excellent curlers and human beings…”

Coach Amanda – Basketball – Markham – 15 Years

“…I coach because I want to give back. Basketball was a huge part of my life growing up and I contribute it to making me the person I am now . I believe in the values that team sports instill in people help them in their every day lives as well as their business lives and if I can help create the for people from a young age that is amazing. My core ideology is centred around helping others. I believe in helping give people the tools they need to succeed, this even flowed into my business motto which is Setting You Up For Success! I am fortunate to be involved in programs that align relatively well with my purpose and their core values, however, at the end of the day many programs are a business and they do look at that side of things first whereas my first priority is the athletes. However overall I feel that the programs I am involved in value the athletes and realize that their long term development and their psycho-social well being are important as well and they try to promote developing the whole person not just the basketball player…”

Coach Gord – Cross Country Skiing – Collingwood – 45 Years

“…I coach as a “thank you” to the coaches I had growing up. They kept me on the right path, mentored me in my chosen profession (physical education teacher) and showed me the positive effects of an authoritative adult in a young person’s life…”

Coach Dale – Basketball – Waterloo – 12 Years

“…I coach because of the love and passion I have for the game of basketball. I want to share my enthusiasm and knowledge of the game and help others to embrace the sport – it also keeps me involved in a game I love even though injury and age have slowed me down as a player…”

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