The Servant-Coach

Why become a coach?

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It is a lot of work with very little pay (until you get to the highest levels). The hours are not great and the coach get's very little credit when things go well - but much of the blame when they go bad. Why would someone subject themselves to that?

Coaching is a vocation, which comes from the Latin word "voca" meaning "to call." We are all "called" to a particular purpose. Is coaching what you are being "called" to do?? Retired Head Football Coach at Florida State University, Bobby Bowden, wrote a great book titled "Called to Coach"

According to Michael Novak, whose book "The Joy of Sports" was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the "100 Best Sports Books of All Time", a calling has four characteristics:

1. Each calling is unique to each individual. You simply cannot say no. Is coaching something that you simply cannot say no to?
2. A calling requires certain preconditions. One is talent. One is love, love of the drudgery it involves. Do you LOVE the work involved. Planning practices, scouting, looking at video, developing players individual fundamentals, and taking the time to put together your program?
3. A true calling reveals its presence by the enjoyment and sense of renewed energies its practice yields us. Do you feel like the harder you work, the better you feel?
4. Callings are not usually easy to discover. Course corrections and many failed attempts mark the journey. Have you pursued other "vocations" and found that coaching is what you NEED to do?

If you answered yes to the above questions, you are being called to coach. The young basketball players of the world DESERVE to have people who feel that strongly and have the kind of passion about their profession that makes the experience the most enjoyable for everybody involved. I know many coaches who began in other industries or moved on to other professions but could not stay away from coaching and feel, like Michael Corleone in Godfather III, "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in!"

A coach who had "a calling" like this is Positive Coaching Alliance National Double-Goal Coach Award winner, Jamal Adams from Loyola High School in Los Angeles. So the story goes that Adams was pulling six-figures on Wall Street, but took a second job as an assistant coach to fill his basketball void. When the Head Coaching job opened up, he was faced with a tough choice, and got some great advice.

His younger brother had terminal cancer and told him "Jamal, you've gotta follow your heart. We don't know how long we are going to live. None of us do. I say it's easy: Coaching Loyola is what you are supposed to do." That made the decision a little easier and it spawned a coaching career that is making a powerful impact that "urges his players to be apart of something greater  than themselves."

Jamal Adams '90 from Loyola High School on Vimeo.

So how do you know it`s a calling?
1. Listen and be attentive to your surroundings (too often we put our nose to the grindstone without our ear to the ground!)
2. Get your ego out of the way (may be he most important)
3. Be open to ideas all the time. (Like Adams was open to his brother's idea)

I'd like to take look at how we view the relationship between the Player and the Coach. I think an interesting way of looking at the player/coach relationship, is that our players don't play FOR us, but rather we work FOR our players to assist them in developing into the players and people that they are capable of becoming. Naturally, we need to do this within the team concept and keeping in mind what is also best for the group. Finding that balance might be one of the most important tasks that the basketball coach has.

Players these days, and most people for that matter, really want to know: "What's in it for me?" Just like Ray Casella in the movie "Field of Dreams". At one point Kevin Costner's character says "I've done everything you've asked me to do. I didn't understand, but I've done it...and not once did I ask 'what's in it or me'?" Shoeless Joe Jackson replied, "What are you saying, Ray?" Costner shot back, "I'm saying... what's in it for me?"

But the question then posed is for us all is. "Is that why you did this? "For you?" Whenever the answer is "No" is the time you know you've built a great team culture where everyone is in it for the right reasons.

Until then, let the player know how it is going to help him/her individually, as well as helping the team. A good example might be setting a screen in basketball. A screen may be a method of helping a teammate get open. However, a good screen forces the screener's defender to "help" and becomes one of the best ways to free yourself for a shot. I have found that players set better screens after they are told that it can also help THEM!

The days of the dictator coach are behind us. We need to find other methods of teaching and relating to players that are more meaningful than "My way or the highway." Methods are adjusting for classroom teachers, and the basketball community needs to keep up with the times. In the classroom, teachers are continually finding ways of making their subjects more relevant and useful to their students, and applicable to the world that they live in. Most players(and students) now want to know "why" something is being done. It would benefit the coach to have an answer ready.

Coaches worry about X's & O's, Strength & Conditioning, Strategy, and Psychology when the first and foremost thing to worry about just might be SERVANTHOOD, caring for and meeting the needs of others before caring for myself. Who are the "others" the coaches need to serve? Coaches not only serve individual players, but also the entire team, the program, their families, the school, and the community at large.

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In 1970, Robert Greenleaf wrote an essay titled The Servant as a Leader and shortly after authored the book Servant Leadership which presented the theory that focused more on the followers than the leader. The premise is that great leaders primary focus is as a servant to others and this leads to their "greatness". If a leaders primary motivation is the desire, even the need, to serve others then their true leadership will surface. The two dimensions of this "servanthood" is the desire to serve others and, also, a higher purpose.  I think that that these are absolutely necessary to be a truly successful coach.

"The servant-leader is servant first... that person is sharply different from one who is leader first... the difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?"

Larry Spears, who was the President of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, filtered the concept down to ten characteristics.

I'll adapt his concept of "Servant-Leadership" to Servant-Coaching, and it might be more prevalent than you`d think. First, Servant-leaders have a deep belief in the unlimited potential of each person/player. Robert Greenleaf points out that the Servant-Leader is servant first...wanting to bring value by lifting up others and doing what supports the greater good for all. I think that most good coaches desire that. This is sharply different from those who see themselves as a leader first. Those coaches are usually motivated by the need for power, wins, prestige and/or material rewards.

Common characteristics of the "SERVANT-COACH" are:
1. Listening: Seeking to identify the needs of the TEAM and to work on those in practice. Listening needs to be coupled with reflection.
2. Empathy: Players need to be recognized and accepted for their special gifts and talents.
3.  Healing: One of the great strengths of the "SERVANT-COACH" is the potential for healing one's self and one's relationship to others. A coach must be able to make corrections & Fill a players Emotional Tank too.
4. Awareness: Especially self-awareness. Coaches need to have or develop their own inner serenity.
5. Persuasion: Seeking to convince the team rather than coerce compliance; SERVANT-COACHES are effective at building consensus within THE TEAM.
6. Conceptualization: "SERVANT-COACHES dream great dreams" and seek a balance between visioning (thinking outside the box) and a day-to-day focused approach.
7. Foresight: SERVANT-COACHES understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. They use these to develop their daily practice plans and game plans on a weekly basis.
8. Stewardship: "Holding something in trust for another"; a commitment to serving the needs of others. The TEAM is everyones TEAM, past, present and future. Leave footprints not litter.
9. Commitment to the Growth of Players: Recognizing that players have value beyond basketball.
10. Building a program: SERVANT-COACHING holds that the primary purpose of a team should be to create a positive impact on its players and community, rather than using winning games as the sole motivation.

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Greenleaf would often ask leaders,  "Whom do you serve? For what purpose?"

It's important that coaches really examine their motives in the same manner.

I`d ask coaches: "Are you that kind of a coach?" Strive to be!

I'd ask players, "Do you play for that kind of a coach?" If so thank him/her!

"We never know the love of a parent, until we become a parent ourself."

I think that once a coach becomes a parent, it changes his perspective on how to teach young people. Raising my children, I did not only want them to do the right thing because "Dad said so" but rather because it was the right thing to do. There comes a time when "Dad"(or Mom) is not going to be there, and yet a correct decision must be made. In order for this to occur, they had to learn "why" it was the right thing, and "how" it was going to benefit them.

I believe that a similar approach must be taken in coaching. I like to call it "Parenting the Program." We talk all the time about coaching the way that we would want our son or daughter coached. We would expect the coach, first and foremost, to be fair. We would want the coach to display patience and understanding with our child and the team. We want to be clear and concise in how we teach, giving the player the know how to perform, and then help them towards improvement, encouraging them all the way.

Most of all we want to treat the player with the same respect that we ask of them. Scold and discipline when necessary, but re-teach and praise immediately following. We never want a player to leave the gym with a negative impression of how the coaches feel about them.

As a coach you obviously should be knowledgeable and organized. You should also love your players equally, unconditionally, and care about them off the floor. Work FOR them as hard as you expect them to work FOR you.

If you do these three things I believe your players will:
1) Listen and try to understand;
2) Show the desire to play as well as they can; and

Can we really ask for anything more?

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