The Silver Bullet

In the early part of the week I noticed that Tom our starting senior fullback seemed distracted and distant, but I chalked it up to a “cold” or something. I was too busy with managing practice and running plays to worry about Tom having a bad day. On Wednesday Tom was late to practice and several times he took the wrong path on some running plays. I got on him a little bit, gave him some extra drills, and he drudgingly complied. Friday night came around and low and behold, Tom had the worst game of his football career. 22 yards rushing, 3 fumbles, and two dropped passes. We lost the game. After most of the team had made their way into the locker room, I noticed that Tom was kneeling in our end zone, head in hands, crying. Anticipating a pitiful story about how he had cost us the game, I made my way across the field to Tom, knelt down beside him and asked him what was wrong. Coach, I know I had a terrible game, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about my mom. I asked what was wrong with his mom. Tom proceeded to tell me about how his alcoholic father had assaulted his mother on Tuesday and had been carted off to jail. His home was a train wreck that week and I had been too busy to: number one, take the time find out about it, and number two, to minister to his spirit rather than condition his body. I had sabotaged my effectiveness as a coach by spending too much time focusing on the physical/temporal aspects of football and not enough time on the character/spiritual dimension of this player.

I have vowed not let that happen again. Since that day I have discovered that the best coaches of the most successful football teams in the country spend more time than other teams focusing on the character/spiritual dimension of their players and teams.

Coaching character, spirit, and virtue is the “winning edge”, it is the “silver bullet”.

If you like, you can spend twenty years coaching (if you last that long), travel the entire country, and attend hundreds of coaching clinics searching for that offense, that defense, that series of plays, that technique that will give your team the winning edge (the silver bullet). Or, you can let us save you some time.

The silver bullet that you are searching for is in coaching the character and spirit of your players. It will not be found in an x’s and o’s playbook.

Think about this. How much time do you spend each week coaching the temporal/body side of your athletes? Drills, practice, weight lifting, sprints, running plays, walk throughs, on and on and on. How much impact are you really going to have on your player’s body? Be honest, how much can you really change a players height, weight, speed, talent, agility, vertical leap, endurance, strength? Sure, you can improve these attributes, but at what cost in exchange for the time, energy and focus you spend on them? Incremental improvements at best, and at what sacrifice of spending less time on strengthening an area of the athlete that offers the greatest level of improvement and coaching impact…..their character and their spirit.

Therein rests the winning edge, the silver bullet, being a more effective coach by deliberately allocating more time to improving your athletes spirit, attitude, intellect, will power, conscience, effort, mental toughness, and sense of duty and camaraderie. Shouldn’t you be spending your precious coaching time in the area where your team will get the greatest return? I know what you’re thinking: Is this guy nut’s? Is he really suggesting that we spend more time attending to and strengthening the “spirits” of our players, than conditioning and training their “bodies”?

My answer is a definitive YES!

It’s simply good business sense to make your largest investment (time) in those areas where you stand to gain your biggest return. Your player’s performance on the field on game day will be impacted more by coaching time spent on their spirit, than by time spent on their body. Some of you may be thinking, “But that’s not how I learned how to coach.” And you’re probably right. But when your ex-players are thanking you 20 years from now for changing their lives, they won’t be talking about how you taught them how to back peddle or execute a G block. They will be talking about some way that you ministered to and strengthened their spirit.

If you want to win more football games, you should consider how you can spend more time on coaching the spirits of your players. How can you teach them to use virtue to live a good life? How they can use their character to protect their talent. What they can do to strengthen their wills and build their spirits. How can you incorporate more activities that will build your team’s morale, personal spirits, and camaraderie?

Still aren’t sold? Listen to this…….

Research by the International Personnel Management Association (IPMA) results of which were published in January 2001, concluded that “standard coaching techniques” typically increased player performance by only 22%, while coaching combined with a significant amount of time spent on coaching the character and spirit of players increased player performance by 88%.

Research by the Chartered Management Institute and Campaign for Learning “Coaching at Work”. Results issued in a press release dated 16th May 2002: 80% of the most successful coaches say they think their teams benefit from coaching character, virtue, and spirit, and dismiss the suggestion that coaching character is just another fad. They believe that coaching character is the winning edge.

Research by The Coaching Company – “Coaching Today Survey” – Respondents feel that coaching character achieves the following desired outcomes:

  • A positive impact on other aspects of players lives, both at school and at home. (96%)
  • A feeling amongst players of ownership of the issues and the outcomes of the team (85%)
  • Evidence of character and virtue learning being put into practical practice (71%)
  • Quantifiable and positive results, often demonstrated by the teams win loss record over the long term (62%)

Results of a poll given to coaches:

TOP 4 words associated with COACHING CHARACTER AND SPIRIT (from a given list) were:

  • Supportive (98%)
  • Empowering (82%)
  • Holistic (80%)
  • Inspirational (77%)

TOP 3 words associated with STANDARD COACHING TECHNIQUES (from the same given list) were:

  • Prescriptive (71%)
  • Rigid (70%)
  • Intimidating (50%)

Michigan-based Triad Performance Technologies, Inc. studied and evaluated the effects of coaching character on successful teams. The study found that the following player outcomes were directly attributable to coaching the character and spirits of the players:

  • Top performing players achieved more.
  • A more positive team environment was created.
  • Parent satisfaction was improved due to better home and school player performance.
  • Improved player performance led to more team wins.
  • Fewer disciplinary problems.
  • Higher academic performance.

One study involved a character competence model. When star players from teams that coached character were compared to average players from teams using standard coaching techniques, four competencies of emotional intelligence emerged as the unique strengths of the star players from the “Character Coaching” teams. Not a single one of them related to physical or temporal strengths. The following four abilities distinguished those players who were stars:

  1. The drive to achieve based on a foundation of unconditional love from their coach.
  2. The ability to take initiative from an environment that nurtured innovation and creativity.
  3. Superior skills in collaboration and teamwork stemming from a motivation to serve others.
  4. The ability to lead teams by setting an example.

What this all means is a clear case for development of “off-field” coaching character, virtue, and the spirit of players in order to achieve “on-field” success. Coaching Character helps develop successful citizen players, sound leadership, outstanding interpersonal practices and a better ability to manage personal conflicts.

Coaches at all levels often spend much of their time reacting to events (a.k.a. putting out fires) rather than proactively moving their team and players towards learning interpersonal skills to equip them to live a good life. As the pace and pressures of coaching young people continues to increase, how can you manage a team, large or small, that consistently achieves virtuous goals while enjoying the challenge?

The answer is by “Coaching Virtue First”.

Coaching Virtue First is a process, a toolkit to help shape what coaches say and do, and how to focus on the critical things that players must do to live a good life. This time honored virtue based process is ideal for teams that are interested in:

  1. Teaching young people about how to live a good life through the practice of virtuous concepts such as humility, faith, hope, love, courage, discipline, leadership, work ethic, empathy, thankfulness, and more.
  2. Teaching young people that just like training is essential for competition, so is doing schoolwork necessary to acquire knowledge needed in their future work or professional duties.
  3. Teaching young people about the need to surpass known physical capacities in order to obtain victory, as a life lesson about total devotion to the task undertaken.
  4. Teaching young people about continuing to compete when exhausted and in pain, as a life lesson about not getting discouraged in the pursuit of objectives in every day life.
  5. Teaching young people the importance of sacrificing personal interest for that of the team.
  6. Teaching young people about uniting wills for a common purpose which forms the attitude of solidarity, so badly needed in today’s individualistic, self centered life of consumerism.
  7. Teaching young people through friendly competition, a more brotherly vision in life as we exchange differing ideas with our fellow man.

Coaches pursue victory in sport the same way that they pursue victory in life. Most seek worldly gains. They chase the wind. They seek only victory on the scoreboard. Their eyes see only the temporal, the x’s and o’s. These coaches are constantly disappointed.

And then there are the coaches who seek things that last, things that are eternal. They focus primarily on building their players into men and women of character. These are the real winners.

These are the coaches that have discovered the “silver bullet”.