Part III: Development of a Coaching Philosophy - "Achieving the Vision" by Ray Lokar

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Guest Post From:  Ray Lokar

Whether it is a business, a team, or just some individuals’ personal goals, we can get buried in information, knowledge, terminology, and jargon and lose sight of what’s really important. We sometimes neglect what the real “bottom line” is. As I realized the need for my philosophy to be shorter, I thought of the slogan I used for years, “Play Hard – Play Smart – Play Together.” Those three team goals I had sounded very familiar. All this time, from that first philosophy paper, and emerging from beneath the mountain of information, the underlying theme was always present -and now had become very clear. The team needed to Care about each other and Play Together, Think about what they needed to do, and Try to Play Hard. I was beginning to connect the dots.


I think it is important to separate and define the various terms we’ve been using in this three-part series. We have values, which are the seeds of our philosophy. The philosophy is how we want to go about accomplishing it. This is different than a mission statement, which states what actionable steps we want to take to get there.

I think your mantra is the most simple, mind-altering, change-inducing statement possible. It is your philosophy filtered, refined, and simplified to the lowest common denominator in what is needed to implement your philosophy and achieve your mission. Along the way, these various guidelines can serve as your GPS to guide you in the best route to achieve where you want to go.

In that first paper, I mentioned in Part 1 it was clear to me that I valued maximum effort, intelligent play, and teamwork. My philosophy was if the coach exhibited similar qualities and fostered them among the players, they would begin to model the coach. The mission was to get players to play hard, smart, and together. The quest is to find a way to send the message and get the players to buy in. I think that is where having your mantra comes into play.

I also realized along the way that what was really important to me was who the players became, far more than what they did. The three qualities I felt were most important all fell into the “Attitude” bucket rather than the “Skill” category. While Caring, Thinking, and Trying are certainly things players can do, it is much more about who they are and the kind of people they are. 

When building your team, whether it is in sports or business, I think the “who” is far more valuable than the “what.” WHO your leaders and players are will get you a lot farther than WHAT they do. The “what” is easy to figure out – the “who” is most important. When choosing assistant coaches, I was far more concerned with who they were than what they knew. Teams, schools, and organizations sometimes become stagnant when they get caught up in the “what.” When floundering, the first analysis should be to look at the attributes that make up WHO you are and want to be.

So what is the vision? The vision then, is our intended outcome. The vision can be a dream, or your best possible end result. It can be your own personal Utopia.

This was my personal Utopia:
I want players and coaches to CARE
When teams begin to work together and go thru the everyday effort with each other, they develop a certain camaraderie that forces them to truly CARE about their teammates. When that happens, they will do everything that they can to not let their teammates down. Everyone must try to accept teammates and coaches as they are and mold themselves into whatever is necessary to fit into the group and make the team successful. As a group, it is important to remember the goodness required to enjoy each other and have fun while competing in this great game and participating in the program. In our off-the-court lives, caring means contributing our time to others, to good and worthwhile causes, and to the welfare of our families and our loved ones. The more we care about our actions and about others – the better the program will be.
I want players and coaches to THINK
Players and coaches must strive to have knowledge of the system and the fundamentals of the sport, inside and out.  They should strive for individual improvement on a daily basis and work to reach the team goals by executing the prepared game. Players should pay special attention to the time and score situations that are practiced and understand the objectives of each. Everyone involved should THINK about the risk and reward involved in each decision, both on and off the court. It is necessary to follow all of the laws, rules and regulations as students, employees, and citizens while striving to achieve a rewarding life plan.
I want players and coaches to TRY
Just try. Try you’re very best. Every time! Be competitors without equal. Players and coaches should strive to make sure that no one prepares more thoroughly or works more diligently to become successful. Display the self-discipline necessary to prepare and succeed at the highest attainable level. Give a supreme daily effort, in all areas of life, towards being the best student, employee, and citizen possible. Success in the game of basketball may be the first step to finding an avenue for social mobility. In the process of achieving athletic success, acknowledge that the world outside the gymnasium is where true success and fulfillment can be found. The basketball court will merely be a laboratory to prepare for the game of life.

Developing a philosophy is the easy part. Start by jotting down a few values or guiding principles you feel are important to you. Clarify those by determining where you fit on a scale of the importance in development to winning, having fun to creating intensity, equal playing time to earned playing time, etc. Think about the kind of coach you want to be and how you want to be remembered by the players, because they’ll remember – one way or the other. Then write a paragraph or two and you’re on your way. A good exercise that guides you through the process is listed here.  Then go about setting some goals in how to get there.

Goal setting is different than having a vision. Goals should be attainable and timely, where your vision might be a dream and open-ended. When setting goals, it’s important to maintain your vision as the end game. Start with Utopia and reverse engineer the process to determine how to get there. Set your goals accordingly with that end in mind. Make those specific goals relevant to what you’re trying to achieve.

Quite possibly the most important aspect of goals is what you measure. Some people say that you get what you emphasize – I’d go a step or two farther. You can’t just emphasize things. I think you get what you measure, recognize and reward. So how do you measure my three “attributes?” How can you really tell if someone cares, thinks, and tries? What does that look like?

To find out if a player really cares, I want to see how someone competes when nothing is on the line. Most players care on game day. How do they work when no one is watching?  Do they win drills in practice? Are they willing to put in the time to prepare to perform? Do they show concern for others and offer help when possible? Do they do so without being asked? I want players who do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do – not because they are afraid of some consequence. When that happens, you know they care.


I was in Tampa, Florida recently talking to athletes at Plant High School about becoming Triple-Impact Competitors. Positive Coaching Alliance offers a scholarship that juniors in high school can apply for, until May 1st, that honors student-athletes who have a positive impact on three levels:
• Personal Mastery: Making oneself better
• Leadership: Making one’s teammates better
• Honoring the Game: Making the game better

I’d contend that those types of athletes fit into the model of those who care, think, and try.

Plant was working on back-to-back State football championships and their volleyball team just won their fifth straight State title. Talk about winners! At the beginning of the workshop, I noticed a young man passing out a stack of workbooks, without being prompted, to some of the 150+ athletes in the auditorium. I learned during the workshop that it was the starting quarterback, Phillip Ely, who led them to both State championships and was committed to Alabama to play QB there. It showed me why he is such a great servant-leader. He cares.

All coaches like players who think.  It’s our job as coaches to train them to think the right thing at the right time. Often when players make a mistake, coaches try to correct the decision, when a good technique might be to ask why they made the decision they did. At times their decisions are based on some valid thinking and as coaches we may even learn something from this. The player may be seeing something different than the coach, but if they have an answer – at least they’re thinking. My oldest son, who is a high-school basketball coach, rather than criticizing a decision, tries to say to players, “This is what I saw.” Then it’s ok that they saw something different, but he’s letting them know what they might want to look for. Train them to look for the things you think are important – in the order you want them to look for them.  

It’s not good enough to just “know” what needs to be done, but they must also have the ability to think on their feet and execute in competition. When I see a player making the easy play it tells me he’s thinking. Players can make things harder on themselves, at times, by searching for difficult plays when a bunch of good plays usually leads to a successful possession. Players who demonstrate the knowledge of your game plan by sequencing options or understanding the objectives of time and score situations are thinking players. Those are measurable by tracking unforced errors and execution in special situations, regardless of outcome.

Players who care about others also think about their actions – and how the consequences of those actions affect others. John Wooden often told the story about being a young high school basketball coach and kicking a player off the team who was caught smoking in the bathroom at school. That player wasn’t thinking about the consequences of his actions, but Coach Wooden had another lesson from that story. The player dropped out of school and lost a scholarship. Coach Wooden regrets that, as a coach, he didn’t think of the consequences of his consequences. When players and coaches make good decisions and avoid trouble, it’s clear they think about the importance of right and wrong.

Be Big on Little Things.jpg

Once you have players that care and think, it’s easier to measure whether or not they try.  Do they do the little things or do they skip steps along the way? In order to find that out, a coach needs to have effort goals and keep track of those things as much as results. Are players in stance, do they contest shots, block out on rebounds, grab the ball with both hands, run hard in transition, and pass the ball to the first open player? Those are all effort-based activities that can be measured that will lead to a good result. I tell players to try to “Be Big on the Little Things.”

When players consistently give their best effort, they are often described as having “heart.” I’m pretty sure it isn’t always a cardiovascular endeavor and doesn’t always have to do with the heart. I think what people really are referring to is something a little more abstract like mental toughness. That consistent effort, players that really try, comes from a mentality that grows within an individual who cares deeply about their performance. So it might not be the “Heart of a Champion” but rather the “Mind of a Champion.”

I use the acronym W.I.N. to emphasize what a player needs to focus their mind on, and it’s not the scoreboard or that kind of “win.” The acronym W.I.N. stands for “What’s Important Now!” The players who have the ability to focus on that W.I.N. exhibit the mental toughness to try do the one thing they need to do at any given time – regardless of situations and/or distractions. Those are the players who really are thinking and trying.

As I try to refine, evolve and improve, if I were to look at my “mantra” and attempt to simplify it even more, I think I might now be able to do that.  If there was one thing you need to do to be good at what you’re doing… just one…I am now certain what it is.  If you were to climb the highest mountain and ask the guru with all the answers what that one thing was, you might find the guru chanting a one-word mantra to simplify you mission and set you on your way to making a real impact in whatever you choose to do.

The one thing you must do, without fail, is CARE.

“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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