Monday, November 23, 2015

Qualities of a Great Coach: Part 3



Just about anyone who has ever been involved in athletics for any extended period of time has had at least one coach who was highly influential and made a positive difference in their life. As both an athlete and coach of multiple sports, I have been blessed to work with some dynamite coaches who have been instrumental in my own growth and development as a coach, husband and father. The fact of the matter is that coaches are oftentimes the most influential individual in a young person's life. It is a tremendous responsibility and one that I take very seriously. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to write a series sharing some of the key things I have learned through my own experiences regarding the qualities that great coaches typically possess.

I am absolutely convinced that the best coaches are always great teachers. You can be a former world-class athlete and have all the technical knowledge in the world; however, if you cannot teach someone else how to do what you want them to do, you are not going to be very effective as a coach.  Take a moment and think of how many former superstar athletes have been total busts as coaches. Why do you think this is? If you are a new coach (or even an experienced one), do not make the mistake of thinking your former success as an athlete will automatically make you a great coach. 

The fact of the matter is that performing an athletic skill or playing a sport is an entirely different skill-set than teaching others how to do it. Regardless of how successful you were as an athlete, there is no way around learning how to teach if you want to be a great coach. If you are a coach and have never had any training in how to effectively teach athletic/movement based skills, you might be wondering...how do I learn this stuff? While there is not a simple and easy answer for this, there are a two specific things you can do to get on the right track.
  1. You must gain a solid understanding of essential motor learning principles as this serves as the foundation for teaching athletic skills and movements effectively. If you were not able to take a college level course in this area,  I recommend at least purchasing a good motor learning textbook and there is a ton of good information on the Internet if you are savvy enough to find stuff from reputable sources. 
  2. You must gain practical experience teaching others. This is best accomplished by learning under an experienced coach who is proven to be a great teacher and who can help guide you through the process. If this is not an option, you will simply have to learn through trial and error. Regardless of the route you take, it is imperative that you learn how to effectively and efficiently break down a particular skill and systematically teach it in a way that results in performance mastery. 
The best illustration I know of when it comes to a coach who was a great teacher is John Wooden. I realize that I keep coming back to him as an example but his coaching/teaching skills were second to none and his coaching record speaks for itself. If you have never done so, I highly recommend reading any one of the great books available on John Wooden's life and coaching background. In doing so, you will get a good glimpse at the masterful teaching skills he demonstrated over the course of his career. With that in mind, it is important for all of us coaches to continually hone our teaching skills in an effort to maximize the overall development of our athletes. In other words, never stop learning and growing. 

Until next time, I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving Holiday. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Qualities of a Great Coach: Part 2

Just about anyone who has ever been involved in athletics for any extended period of time has had at least one coach who was highly influential and made a positive difference in their life. As both an athlete and coach of multiple sports, I have been blessed to work with some dynamite coaches who have been instrumental in my own growth and development as a coach, husband and father. The fact of the matter is that coaches are oftentimes the most influential individual in a young person's life. It is a tremendous responsibility and one that I take very seriously. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to write a series sharing some of the key things I have learned through my own experiences regarding the qualities that great coaches typically possess.

Typically, the most successful coaches across all sports are masterful at cultivating a sharp focus on the things that are under each athlete's control.  More specifically, I have found that the best coaches place a continual emphasis on attitude and effort. The fact of the matter is that these two areas are completely under the control of each and every athlete regardless of their talent level or life situation. Teams and individual athletes who truly embrace this principle typically perform very well, oftentimes better than their more naturally talented opponents.

The key to instilling this type of focus on attitude and effort is for you as the coach to define how you measure success. Obviously, winning is the benchmark we all like to use as coaches but there are so many factors outside of our control that make a winning-centered focus problematic.

I think legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, offers a much better option with his definition of success:
"Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you gave your best effort to become the best of which you are capable (Biro, 2001)."
Imagine what this would look like if every individual athlete/team member demonstrated the type of attitude and effort outlined by Coach Wooden. Focusing on the things we CAN control releases us to maximize the unique gifts and talents God has blessed each of us with. The funny thing is that this type of focus almost always results in more winning. The reason why this is so is because the focus is on the daily process that makes an athlete/team great rather than just the outcome of being great. 

Despite the fact that he virtually never talked about winning with any of his teams, Coach Wooden won 664 games (.804 winning %)  including 10 national championship over the course of his NCAA coaching career. The De La Salle HS football team, who won a record 151 games in a row, is another great example of this principle put into practice. Throughout this unbelievable winning streak, the coaching staff maintained a steadfast emphasis on each athlete preparing themselves to the absolute best of their ability rather than a focus on winning more games. Obviously, winning more games was the ultimate result of this focus. 



Interestingly, you can even find an example of this principle at work in the win-at-all-costs world of professional sports. The New England Patriots have undoubtedly been the most successful professional football team in the NFL since 2001 winning four Super Bowls during this period of time. The Patriots simple team motto, "Do your job," is an excellent example of maintaining a focus on factors under each athletes control and the process of becoming successful instead of the outcome. All "Deflategate" jokes aside, it is clear that the Patriots players have done a great job in taking this motto to heart as the results speak for themselves. 

Image Credit: www.jostens.com
Ultimately, we can only do our very best with the gifts and talents God has blessed us with. It is a choice we can all make and it under our control each and every day. It is our job as coaches to help our athletes understand this principle and embrace it. In closing, one of my favorite Bible verses offers this great word of encouragement for us all:

"Whatever may be your task, work at it heartily from the soul, as something done for the Lord and not for men" ~ Colossians 3:23

Reference
Biro, B.D. (2001). Beyond success: The 15 secrets to effective leadership and life based on legendary coach John Wooden's pyramid of success. New York: Berkley.

Qualities of a Great Coach: Part 1

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Qualities of a Great Coach: Part 1



Just about anyone who has ever been involved in athletics for any extended period of time has had at least one coach who was highly influential and made a positive difference in their life. As both an athlete and coach of multiple sports, I have been blessed to work with some dynamite coaches who have been instrumental in my own growth and development as a coach, husband and father. The fact of the matter is that coaches are oftentimes the most influential individual in a young person's life. It is a tremendous responsibility and one that I take very seriously. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to write a series sharing some of the key things I have learned through my own experiences regarding the qualities that great coaches typically possess.

The first, and most important quality in my opinion, is love. I have yet to meet an exceptional coach who does not genuinely love and care about the athletes under their leadership. The love I am talking about is similar to the love a parent has for their child. Coaches who have this kind of love for their athletes truly desire what is best for each individual and care about their overall development as a person. There is nothing wrong with desiring to win and building the best team/athlete possible; however, focusing solely on competitive success is limited in its ability to help athletes reach their maximum potential. 

More than ever before, athletes need to know that you care about them for more than just winning and building your own personal resume. This is critical in building the kind of trust and commitment needed for reaching competitive greatness. If an athlete feels that they are simply a tool for you to reach your own goals and dreams, they will never commit and put forth the effort that they would for a coach who genuinely loves them and cares about their well-being beyond their respective sport. 

In my own experience, the more I have focused on building positive relationships with my athletes and simply loving them, the more success they have achieved. I am absolutely convinced that athletes will "run through a brick wall" for you if they know you really love them and desire what is best for them as an athlete and person. If you are unsure of what it really means to love your athletes, I believe the Bible offers the best explanation possible: 

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." ~ 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

Loving your athletes (or people in general) is not merely a feeling, it is action and something you can choose to do each and every day. Legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, exemplified this well when he told his new players each year..."I will love you all the same, but I won't like you all the same." I challenge you as coach to reflect on where you are at in this specific area. Do you genuinely love the athletes under your leadership? If so, do they know it? If not, what can you do TODAY to change this?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Learning How to Correctly Teach the Olympic Lifts

Due to my recent move from Texas to California, it has been awhile since my last blog post as I have been dealing with all the stuff that surrounds a big move from one state to another. Now that we are pretty much settled in, I am looking forward to getting my blog back up and running. For those of you who have read my blog in the past, you will notice a shift in focus to more athletic coaching related topics. Shortly after moving, I was offered a unique opportunity at a large public high school to become the head strength and conditioning coach along with a full-time teaching position. I am excited for the opportunity to be able to focus most of my time on the coaching side of things now and look forward to sharing some of my thoughts through this blog. With that being said, I thought it would be good to start things off my providing some useful resources for any coach seeking to learn how to teach the Olympic weightlifting movements correctly.

As most coaches would agree, the Olympic weightlifting movements can be quite effective for developing the type of strength and power that transfers well to improved sport performance; however, this effectiveness is dependent on the movements being TAUGHT and PERFORMED correctly. If proper technique is taught and reinforced daily, the Olympic lifts and their derivatives are a safe and highly efficient means for building many of the physical qualities we desire in our athletes such as strength, power, mobility and kinesthetic awareness. 

As with any teaching situation, it is critical to remember that athletes will typically mimic what they see the teacher/coach demonstrate in terms of movement technique. If the demonstration is incorrect during the learning process, athletes are not going to magically figure it out and perform the movement correctly. For this reason, it is vital that the coach in charge of introducing new movements in a strength program is proficient in teaching the technical components of the Olympic lifts correctly in a group setting or have someone that is capable of doing so.  

First and foremost, I recommend that any coach seeking to teach the Olympic lifts take the Level 1 Sports Performance course offered by USA Weightlifting (the national governing body for weightlifting in the U.S.). The purpose of the course, as stated on the USAW website, is "to take all participants through complete technical progressions of the Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and all associated movements including Power Snatch, Power Clean, Power Jerk, Squat variations, and pulling progressions." This course typically includes a significant hands-on component which is essential for any coach wanting to learn how to teach these movements correctly. For more detailed information on this course, visit the following link: 

If taking this course is not a feasible option, my next recommendation would be to find an experienced weightlifting coach in your area whom you could spend some time with learning the lifts and how to teach the technical components correctly. Learning under an experienced coach is actually the best route one could take but may not be realistic for every individual.  A directory of all the weightlifting clubs and coaches throughout the United States can be viewed on the USAW website at the following link: 


Finally, if neither of the above mentioned options are possible for your situation, I recommend at least purchasing a good instructional video that will teach you the step-by-step progressions for learning and teaching the lifts. The following video is an excellent alternative: 


Although it does take some time to learn the technical components of the weightlifting movements and implement them into a strength and conditioning program, the payoff is well worth it for maximizing the performance of your athletes. 

CJ Del Balso - MS, CSCS, USAW National Coach 
Twitter: @cjdelbalso 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Key Ingredient For Change


This post comes at a bitter sweet time in which I am preparing to leave the position I have served in over the past four years to move my family out to Southern California. The time I have spent at Prince of Peace Christian School has been truly special and I appreciate the privilege of working alongside such a dynamite group of people. As I work through this process of transitioning out of my current position, I have been doing a great deal of reflection over my past twelve years in education.

In working with hundreds of different teachers over the years, there is one specific thing that I have found to be true. In my experience, teachers who are continuously learning, growing and seeking to innovate in the classroom have one particular thing in common...they genuinely desire to do what is BEST for kids. In saying this, I fully realize that the tough circumstances of life oftentimes prevent us from doing some of the things we would truly like to do. Regardless, I have found that teachers who have this motivation to do what is best for kids somehow find a way to accomplish amazing things in the classroom. I can recall many examples of teachers who have blown me away with their commitment to professional learning/growth (on their own time) and the continuous application of innovative ideas in spite of some very difficult circumstances.

With this in mind, there are three questions that I believe every educator should ask themselves...

Are the instructional methods I use the really best way to help kids learn and master what I am trying to teach or merely the method that I think is best and/or am most comfortable utilizing? 

Are my assessment methods really the best away to assess learning or simply the most convenient/easiest method? 

If I am not engaging in regular professional learning on my own, is it because I do not have the time or that I do not want to make the time a priority? 

Although these questions can be quite humbling for any of us to consider, honestly reflecting on them can help us identify what our true motivations are for why we do what we do as educators. I encourage you to take some time to carefully consider these questions. At the end of the day, if what we are doing is not what is best for kids, we must ask ourselves why we are doing it in the first place.