Being the holiday season of office parties, Secret Santas, and gift lists for all those who have been naughty and nice, the practice of "re-gifting" gets a somewhat of a bad wrap. It is not always bad to give something to someone else that has already been given to you. I'm not talking about that fruit-cake or extra crock-pot. I'm talking about the gift of knowledge.
We have a responsibility to pass on what we may have learned from an older generation to the younger generation. This is especially true in the coaching profession. If seasoned coaches all accept the challenge to nurture a younger coach we can help those coaches flourish. Far too many coaches with tremendous potential leave the game before they even have an opportunity to become good. Many times all they need is someone to take them under their wing. Often times, when coaches who have premature exits to their careers they say it was because they just did not have someone to turn to in times of need. They did not have a mentor.
There was a trend for a while in the cutthroat world of coaching that coaches were becoming a little secretive and were not as willing to share as the generations before them. I got the sense some felt that helping someone else improve wold somehow make their star shine less bright. I believe we are starting to see that trend reverse a bit and coaches are realizing that helping others is a noble thing to do.
I have been fortunate enough to have a number of great mentors in my career. I wrote about a few of them in the multi-part piece on Developing a Coaching Philosophy and I have had others as well. People entering the coaching profession should not only seek the older, wiser coaches to soak up some knowledge from, but also have some peer mentors. I had a few coaches that were coming up at around the same time and we would bounce ideas around all the time or assist each other with the same kind of growing pains we were having ourselves..
Sometimes it is simply the little things coaches need to get some help with. Sometimes you just need to know where to get the keys when you forget yours, what to do when the bus or referees don't show up, or how to find out how to process a check. Other times it's some help with some real issues and not always is another coach, who may be your superior, the easiest one to go to.
When a novice coach struggles, slips up, or if things really hit the fan they need someone to turn too. There are times when that coach may not want to go ask a superior because they may feel it could be a sign of weakness or ineptitude. For this reason they need someone else to turn to. It doesn't always have to be another coach in the same sport...or even a coach at all. I remember a fairly wise and worldly English teacher who used to help me with issues all the time. Search for those people and on the quest for knowledge... ask questions.
However these people can’t just “choose” to be a mentor, they have to just be open to it. Have you ever heard the saying, “Your best ability is your avail-ability?” Being available to coaches who need help is the simple first step. Mentors who provide a safe place for young coaches to come to for guidance are golden to the next generation.
Safe means understanding, non-judgmental, and the ability to help coaches talk through a problem to come up with their own answers. Safe does not necessarily mean telling the “men-tee” what you think is wrong, or even recognizing that a mistake may have been made. The most effective and long-lasting solution is to guide them down the path of discovering the answer to their own problem. It is important to be honest and to try to stretch the individual to be better and solve problems on their own, as opposed to just giving some laundry list of potential answers.
Helping these young coaches make it through the first few years may put them on the path to long-term success. Interestingly, and quite often, you may be someone’s “mentor” without even knowing it. I think those might even be the best mentor/men-tee situations, when they just happen organically, and may not even be realized by the men-tee until years later.
Recently I was shopping and ran into a youth baseball coach I had when I was 15 who I had not seen since that time. I looked similar enough that I knew exactly who he was, but put 35+ years on a 15 year old and not many would recognize him. So I knew exactly who he was – and he had no idea who I was when I approached him.
After a 20 minute or so conversation while we blocked the aisle in the store, I realized he may have a very early mentor of mine. As I thought back, he was the very first real “coach” I had. Prior to that season I had the typical “Coach-Dad” we see in most youth sports organizations. Great men who volunteered their time and did the best they can. I don't remember any bad experiences, although some interesting ones. I do remember this coach as knowledgeable, organized, thorough, and tough. He was also a lower level high school coach at the time, later became a local head coach, and to this day is a Junior College Head Coach - so he was in it for the long haul. I realized he just may have planted the seed that this coaching thing may be a pretty decent thing to get into.
If coaches coach as if they are developing other coaches, they are going to end up with smart teams and teams that are prepared. Head coaches could give their assistants responsibility ion practice, games, and the off season to help them grow as well. If those coaches actually become head coaches down the line, that coach may develop a “coaching tree” that will pass the knowledge on from generation to generation.
Bill Walsh is one of those football coaches who has a tremendous Coaching Tree. Jim Boeheim, Bobby Knight have great basketball trees. I’m pretty fortunate to have a tree I am thankful for, I coached fro a great Division III coach at Pomona-Pitzer name “Charlie Kat’. That’s what we called him because it was much easier than Katsiaficas. Part of my job was to spell it phonetically for the game announcer prior to pre-game introductions. Cat-See-Uh-Fee-Cuss. He was Gregg Popovich’s assistant prior to my arrival, just before Popo went to the NBA. Popo coached with Larry Brown in San Antonio after spending time with him at Kansas, while Brown played and coached for Dean Smith of North Carolina. Smith assisted Phogg Allen at Kansas who was Dr. Jaimes Naismith’s assistant – and he invented this beautiful game.
What all these men were very comfortable doing was sharing the knowledge they were given by others and giving it to the next generation of coaches, leaving it in quite capable hands.