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Reflecting on Why You Coach

This is an excerpt from Coaching Better Every Season by Wade Gilbert.

Most coaching books start with a discussion of the importance of creating a coaching philosophy and follow up with a section on creating goals. But to define a coaching philosophy and set goals, you must first understand and express why you coach and what principles will guide how you coach.

A coaching purpose defines why you do what you do; it is your fundamental reason for being (a coach). Your purpose also represents your motivations for coaching. Coaches by nature are competitive and driven to succeed. This attribute combined with outside pressure from others to win can easily cause coaches to lose sight of their true purpose. A traumatic life moment is often the trigger that causes a coach to pause and reflect on the why. For three-time national college football champion coach Urban Meyer, a combination of dealing with serious health issues and listening to his daughter speak at a public ceremony caused him to realize how absent he had become from her life. For renowned high school football coach Joe Erhmann, the moment came while attending his brother's funeral. In his deeply personal account of how he discovered his coaching purpose, Coach Erhmann explains how he came to identify his true purpose as a coach: “‘My Why': I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible, and change the world for good.”

Whereas clarity of coaching purpose serves as a beacon for navigating the choppy waters of coaching, core values are the expectations and standards that coaches and their athletes use to hold each other accountable and build a culture of excellence. Some coaches such as Hall of Fame professional basketball coach Pat Riley describe a team's core values as a covenant or agreement that holds teams together. Successful coaches ensure that the program core values are clearly aligned with their coaching purpose.

One of the most successful coaches of the 21st century is professional football coach Bill Belichick. His coaching purpose was formed early in life, perhaps even as young as 6 years old when he eagerly helped his father, a college football coach at the time, analyze game film. His coaching purpose is rooted deeply in the pursuit of excellence and a love of football. The single core value that has long served as the guiding principle for all the teams he has coached is summed up in the simple mantra “Do your job!” Unwavering commitment to this core value is demonstrated through relentless preparation, incredible attention to details, a team-first attitude, and an intense work ethic.

You will know you have found your coaching purpose when your purpose is inseparable from who you are as a person. For example, all-time winningest college baseball coach Augie Garrido once said, “I coach baseball to its core because it is in my core.” Your purpose and core values, then, serve as a window into your coaching soul - the essence or embodiment of who you are as a coach and why you coach.

The most effective coaches are acutely sensitive to this basic concept. In fact, 11-time professional basketball championship coach Phil Jackson includes the word soul in the title of his best-selling book about how to coach championship teams. Coach Jackson explains that his purpose and core values are grounded in his deeply held concern for connecting with athletes and creating what might be considered an enlightened basketball environment - one in which he helps athletes find personal meaning in the sport experience.

A coaching purpose and core values do not need to be validated by others. A purpose and values are right if they are personally meaningful and inspirational. Together, your purpose and core values make up what is sometimes referred to as your core ideology - your enduring character and identity as a coach. Your core ideology as a coach matters because it gives meaning to your work and has the power to ignite passion and sustain the long-term commitment required to become an effective coach.

Learn more about Coaching Better Every Season.

More Excerpts From Coaching Better Every Season