People like to say that great coaches are students of the game. I don't disagree, but at the same time that characterization is overly simplistic.
Great ideas come from unexpected places
Great coaches are students. Period.
I make that distinction because I’ve never met a first-rate coach that lived a bubble, burdened with tunnel vision toward the game. Sure, they’re masters of their craft, but they’ve also come to appreciate the value of being renaissance men and women.
This isn’t exclusive to coaches. CEOs, authors and small business owners glean ideas from television, history, philosophy, business or architecture. It might be difficult to discern at times because of the way they’ve adapted and customized that information to their own professions, but their library of knowledge helped shape their success.
If you’ve never read “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, I’m willing to bet you’ve at least heard of it. Coaches are partial to this treatise because of the way sports and competition is often associated with battle and strategy.
Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett once referenced the ending of Rocky III to characterize his team. In the movie, as Apollo and Rocky enter the ring, Apollo said, “You gotta remember now. You fight great, but I’m a great fighter.”
“It’s a little like that for us, Bennett told CBS Sports. We don’t look at ourselves as this great team. We look at ourselves as a team that, when things are right, we can play at an excellent level.”
Inspiration and motivation also comes from the individuals around you, and that’s something coaches often disregard. Basketball coaches can gather a wealth of ideas from tennis coaches, athletic trainers, teachers or even athletes.
Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo has regular discussions with Spartan football coach Mark Dantonio. Their talks are more leadership and less Xs and Os, but neither coach hesitates to search for fresh ideas in unconventional places.
“It’s so good when you got a friend that’s in the same profession but in a little bit different venue because you look at it a little differently, Izzo told MLive Media Group. Sometimes we get engrained in what we’re doing and then we look from the outside in.
“We just talk about, really, none of it’s Xs and Os. It’s how to get guys, push the right buttons, keep things going, keep the distractions away.”
Your mind must always be open because great ideas can come from anywhere. Maybe it’s from your next coaching clinic, or maybe it’s from one of the university’s physics professors. By being reluctant to explore uncharted territory you’re suppressing your own creativity.
Like the student-athletes so many of you lead, you’re in a position where you must learn and adapt on a daily basis. I always smile when I hear coaches talk about carrying a small notebook and pen everywhere they go because they never know when and where an idea will strike. That’s how we all must think, regardless of our profession.
This mindset may require some cognitive training, but once this mentality becomes habit you’ll discover new and unique ways to do your job. Being a student of the game is crucial, but it’s being a student alone that opens the doors to greatness.
As they say, knowledge is power.