Learning from your Coaches (Bad or Good)

If you play long enough, you will play for good coaches and bad coaches. When you move into coaching, you often reflect on the good and bad coaches. Many coaches coach much like their mentor or favorite coach. However, is it possible to learn more from your bad experiences than your good experiences?

Stanford University professor Bob Sutton linked to an interview with Yahoo’s CEO Carol Bartz who argues that you learn more from your bad managers than your good managers.

Bartz says:

I also think people should understand that they will learn more from a bad manager than a good manager…When you have a good manager things go so well that you don’t even know why it’s going well because it just feels fine.

When you have a bad manager you have to look at what’s irritating you and say: “Would I do that? Would I make those choices? Would I talk to me that way? How would I do this?”

Sutton highlights the point about noticing:

The implication is that when things are going great, you don’t engage in very deep cognition about them, because little is happening to give you pause or upset you. In fact, this point is consistent with research on cognition and emotion suggesting that people in good moods do not engage in as much mindfulness,deep thought, or self-doubt as people in bad moods.

When you play for a good coach, therefore, you do not notice the reasons why you like playing for the coach. Everything seems good. Therefore, you try and copy the coach, but oftentimes you fail to copy the parts that made the good coach a good coach.

For instance, I played for my father for years and consider him a great coach. However, technically-speaking, I run practices almost completely opposite of his practices. We never scrimmaged, we ran the Flex and we had a very structured press break. I use games to teach almost every skill, prefer motion offenses and do not use a press break.

I think he was a great coach because he created an environment free of fear, and all the players knew that he cared about them as more than just players. I do not remember exactly how he accomplished this – I cannot remember if he spoke to each player personally during each practice or if he took the players who played less to the side and gave them goals to earn playing time.

On the other hand, I have used experiences that I did not like as a player and as an assistant coach to shape my coaching philosophies. I paid attention to the things that I disliked and tried to change them as a coach.

A couple years ago, I read an article about John Gagliardi, a football coach at St. John’s University in Minnesota:

Who wouldn’t want to show up for practice, when Gagliardi has basically eliminated all the things football players traditionally don’t like about it? There is no calisthenics or lap running, and no drills designed to build agility or quickness. There isn’t even any tackling — instead, the Johnnies line up 11 on 11 and play touch football for 90 minutes, the way most of them have since they were little kids tossing around footballs in their backyards. And if you happen to mess up, don’t sweat it — Gagliardi isn’t likely to get up in your grill.

“You don’t chew ’em out, you don’t get on their tail all the time,” he tells me. “I think what drives most people away from things is not the physical abuse, but the mental abuse.”

Of course, by traditional football standards, Gagliardi’s approach to motivation is pure heresy. But looked at another way, it makes perfect sense, because he has essentially created a football program powered not by his own threats or intimidation or screaming, but by the players’ natural passion for football.

It makes a lot of sense. Learn from the things/coaches that you do not like and do not repeat the mistakes.

By Brian McCormick
Founder, 180 Shooter

5 thoughts on “Learning from your Coaches (Bad or Good)

  • When I began coaching, I modeled myself as the anti-version of my least favorite coach in high school. He was the reason I stopped playing – basketball was no longer fun. I coached to make it fun for kids, for them to learn the game, and to be a forum through which cheesy life lessons were taught.

    As I get older, I find myself less and less being the anti-bad coach, but trying to recall and model the characteristics of good coaches. I’ll never be that terrible HS coach because the reasons I coach are not self-centered (winning); they are student-centered (development). But there are so many ways to coach, I feel like just focusing on the negative limits me.

    You’re dead on Brian. Makes a ton of sense to focus on the good and learn from the bad. Another life lesson through basketball.

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