Part II: Development of a Coaching Philosophy - "Manifesto to Mantra" by Ray Lokar

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Guest Post From:  Ray Lokar

What I've come to learn in coaching is that most of the time when I felt a sense of frustration it was because I was asking players to do something that was beyond what they were capable of doing, or at least something they were incapable of doing, on a regular basis, at that time. This is usually solved by reverting to something a bit more simple, generating some success, rebuilding confidence and moving on - but that is sometimes counterintuitive Instead, we often focus on the things that are going wrong, spend time correcting them and trying to fix them, giving players another layer to think about, often with limited success - which has a tendency to bring the energy level of a practice down. So the answer most often is to simplify - not complicate. Great coaches, and teachers, have the ability to teach the complex in a simple way. Even Albert Einstein said, "Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler." It is in finding that balance where real genius is found.

For years the programs I was associated with used a slogan that many teams use: "Play Hard - Play Smart - Play Together." For younger teams I worked with I also added, "Have Fun" - even though that is still important at every level. A team slogan, or company tag-line, is a great way to reinforce the things that are important to you and simplify it for those you lead.


We would put signs up, put it on fliers, t-shirts and our practice gear. It got to the point that I began to call it our "Triangle of Triumph" (with all due respect to John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success"), and it put a further focus on the very basic qualities that were the foundation of what we wanted to get done. Pre-game speeches, halftime talks, and time-outs became very easy because we could usually go back to saying one of those three things.

One of the reasons that continuing success or repeating championships in sports is so difficult is the leaders lose sight of the very things that got them there. I mentioned in Part 1 that after a while I bought into the "lottle" principle and tried to do more  - when deep down I knew better. As time went on I noticed the team just wasn't catching on as well as I expected, probably because my expectations were unreasonable and too high for the young team we had that year. I felt like I couldn't get them to Play Hard - Play Smart - Play Together all at once ... and they certainly didn't look as if they were having fun.

The Head Coach I worked for at Pomona-Pitzer College may be one of the best-kept secrets in the nation. Charlie Katsiaficas is a great coach that flies under the radar because he has chosen to stay at the small DIII school with one of the best academic reputations in the country. Coach Kat (really, who wants to try to say Katsiaficas?) used to always say players had trouble thinking and playing hard at the same time. When we'd see players at less than optimum speed or performance, it was usually because of "paralysis by analysis." They just couldn't seem to give their best effort while they were still trying to learn or figure out what they were doing. 

One of the reasons that repetition and practice is so important - is so executing a skill becomes a habit and the player doesn't have to think about it. This keeps the brain from throwing on the brakes to the effort-mobile and players can just go out, play hard, and trust themselves and their teammates. It's also a great reason to analyze whether you are giving the players too much for them to handle at this stage of their development.

In the middle of a listless practice, when the players just couldn't seem to get anything right, all the coaches tried to fix it, players didn't respond, and I eventually I stopped practice and began a loud mid-practice "monologue" that might as well have been a soliloquy. I wasn't sure if the players were hearing me and, to be honest, the players may have characterized it more as a rant than a lecture. I stopped practice, the players tossed me the ball (they know I can't talk on a court without a ball in my hands) and I went on...and on...and on. 

"We're playing like we don't care! We have to care about what we're doing out here. Take some pride in how you play! We have to care about how our performance affects others... Care about the basketball! Protect it! We can't score without it! This game we play is so important they named the whole thing for this ball. Can we just CARE? .... And we have to THINK! We're not thinking at all. Can we just think? Know what we're running, think about where your supposed to be, think about what you have to do, and think about what happens when you don't do it! THINK! ... then go out and TRY to do it. Please...just try! We're not giving a very good effort right now. You have got to try. If we don't try...our very best... there's no way we can be our best. We... Must.... TRY!"

The rant went on a little longer and practice got a little better (but not much) and my first thought as I was walking up the stairs to the office was that year, with that team, I may have been expecting too much. I was asking more of them than they were capable of giving - at least every play, every day. I needed to simplify. As I slumped in my office chair, I went over the whole monologue in my head and had a flashback...a flashback to the '70's." I realized my plea for the players to care, think, and try was exactly what I had written in my first coaching philosophy paper in college.

  If a coach:
    1) Cares about his players on and off the court
    2) Proves that he is knowledgeable and
    3) Works as hard as he expects them to
  then players will:
    1) Try to be good teammates (Care)
    2) Listen and try to learn, and (Think)
    3) Give their best effort (Try)

At this point, it was obvious to me the players weren't living up to what I expected in that "If/Then" statement. Now I needed to examine whether I was living up to my part of the bargain. We were coming off two great years so I was pretty sure the players were confident that I was knowledgeable, but did this group feel like I cared about them? Was I still working as hard as I expected them too? It's important for coaches to understand this is a two-way street. When things aren't going well, the initial instinct is to analyze player performance, but the most important place for a leader to look is in the mirror. I needed to do better too. I needed to simplify our approach and I needed to return to focusing on the three things I really believed in all along, and work harder to make them happen

"When players truly CARE about their teammates, THINK about their actions and TRY their very best, the team will grow into a unit and begin to become the best that they can be."

Around that time, after several years, I had reconnected with Coach Dave Bollwinkel as I took my teams to a great team basketball camp, which is one of the best actual teaching Team Camps in the country, offering five hours of instruction every day, instead of just a tournament in disguise. In between games Dave conducted team-building exercises for the teams and this was one of the many great aspects of the camp.  Dave had become a scout for the Chicago Bulls, a TV analyst and is the President of Coach On and Off the Court where he is a nationally respected speaker and facilitator. We stayed in touch and he did such a great job in this new chapter of his coaching career that when I later entered a new chapter of my own I enlisted his help once again.

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I soon transitioned from coaching players to the position of Lead Trainer with Positive Coaching Alliance. At PCA we help leaders establish a positive culture in their leagues, coach coaches and parents on ways to provide the most positive, productive and character-building experience for the players as possible, and show players how to compete in a way that makes themselves, their teammates, and the game they're playing in better. We present workshops nationwide and have a crew of trainers from all over the country, so we have a Trainers Institute every summer to help our trainers become the best facilitators they can be.

I arranged to have Coach Bollwinkel come in and speak with our leadership and our wonderful trainers about presentation skills, team-building, organizational management and leadership. Dave's presentations were dynamic and really involved the attendees in the learning. One activity we did, that you could try at home, is to list as many of the qualities necessary to have a successful team or organization as you can. After listing those attributes, Dave had us try to classify them as either "skills" or "attitudes."

As coaches, we dream of all of these wonderful skills that we hope our players possess and it's amazing the percentage of qualities required for success that fall in the attitude category - and not skills. When looking at my laundry list of characteristics necessary for success, I noticed that most of the qualities could be classified into one of these three categories that I felt were most important. In simplifying that long list of qualities and attributes to the lowest common denominators, most anything you could do to ensure success in anything either has to do with how much you Care, Think, or Try.

The next fall, at a Southern California football coaching clinic Pete Carroll, then the Head Coach at USC, asked the coaches in attendance how many had a written coaching philosophy. Hands shot up, seemingly in their haste to impress Coach Carroll. He then asked how many coaches could tell him their philosophy in 30 seconds or less - and almost all the hands went down. His point was if it was longer than that - people couldn't remember it anyway.

Carroll's personal philosophy was simple.  He used the phrase, "Win Forever", which he defined as doing something better than it's ever been done before. Whatever you're doing - try to do it better than it's ever been done before. It made me think that his philosophy was so simple and so easy to repeat it was more of a "mantra" that was repeated so often it transformed the mindset of the individuals associated with the program. Coach Carroll's mantra has since turned into a best selling book on leadership.

On a cross-country trip recently to spread the PCA message in South Florida, I thought I would take advantage of the in-flight WiFi and came across an article in Harvard Business Journal. Not because I'm the kind of guy that reads the Harvard Business Journal... I Tweet. I read a tweet...that directed me to a blog...that linked to the HBJ. The article was titled the "The Eight-Word Mission Statement." The premise was most mission statements are full of industry buzz-words that get twisted, are abstract, and not measureable, so they end up not being implemented anyway. The challenge is to clarify your purpose and state it as clearly and simply as possible - in eight words or less. State the complex - simply.

A simple mission statement, philosophy, tag-line, or slogan that is so easy to remember that it can be repeated by all in order to shine a light on your most important goal, can become your mantra. A mantra is so simple and laser-focused that, when repeated often enough, it is capable of creating a mental model and transforming a mindset. Just like Pete Carroll's "Win Forever" mantra did for those surrounding his football program and encouraged them to try to do everything better than it had ever been done before. I thought long and hard on the flights back and forth from southern California and throughout my stay in Florida and was convinced that my philosophy, one that had grown into a complex "manifesto," had become a "mantra." An Eight-Word Mantra, if you will.

"To Succeed, you gotta Care, Think, and Try."
Is that eight?

Next up, find out how to "Achieve the Vision" in Part III:  Development of a Coaching Philosophy 

"Ray Lokar, Lead Trainer for Positive Coaching Alliance, provides today's article. "Coach Lok" will be a frequent contributor to "The Athlete's Sports Experience". You can follow Ray at:

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