Coaching Leadership Begins with ‘Knowing Yourself’

By Sean McCormick | Posted 1/3/2019

In the 1980s Hayden Fry, the University of Iowa head coach responsible for bringing the Hawkeye football program back into the upper echelon of the Big 10 Conference, was asked about his penchant for being a copycat coach – taking another team’s plays and incorporating them into the Iowa playbook. Fry informed the reporter once a play, no matter where it originated, was written into his playbook it became his own. Coaches have been borrowing/stealing plays from other coaches since the advent of football. While this may create a successful playbook for a coach, it’s not necessarily the way for a coach to sharpen his leadership skills.

Appearing on Keith Grabowski’s ‘Coach and Coordinator’ podcast Brian Kight, the founder of the goals-achieving program Focus 3, believes each coach must create a unique leadership model. “It’s all about knowing yourself,” said Kight. “Creating your own identity, an entity started with the proper kind of energy. At the high school and collegiate levels a coach must begin with three words in mind, initiate, maintain and sustain.”

Kight acknowledges the start of each football season is ‘a journey,’ and emotion and attention is at the forefront. The Focus 3 leader is fully aware there is an appropriate ebb and flow to a season. “There are ‘sudden’ bursts! Then, there are seemingly lengthy parts of the off-season. So, really the key is to develop the right focus on the right energy.

“I liken it to a team which has no problem ‘getting up’ for a quarter or a half. It’s closing, doing what’s required for four complete quarters, for 10 to 15 weeks. This is what coaches with great leadership skills do.”

These leadership skills begin with transferring the right energy to assistant coaches, to team captains and to the entire football roster. “A great leader starts with knowing where to use his energy,” Kight said. “To focus on what a coach ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ control is vital for leadership success. What good does it do to expend energy on something you can’t control?”

Many coaches fall into the trap of arguing with officials. “It is energy wasted,” said Kight. “The call won’t be overturned. It won’t get called back.” He points out the energy used for this directly has an effect on the team’s performance.  “While you’re pleading with the official, you aren’t thinking about the next play, or focusing on your opponent. In this game the margin is so small. If you continue to waste energy and let it get out of control, you cannot complain when you lose.”

In addition to sitting down with the coaching staff to continue to be energetic in important areas, Kight wants the head coach to ‘Pre-Plan’ for expected energy drains. For instance, every coach knows there is going to be a disgruntled parent or booster club official, a player who is too selfish to ‘buy in’ to the program’s energy goals or ramifications to something occurring during the school day.  A coach with a leadership plan can use pre-planning. “I am not talking about not attempting to ‘influence’ student-athletes team attitude,” said Kight. “It’s being able to realize coaches cannot worry about a player refusing to change a poor attitude. Leaders move on. It’s the same with school distractions. It’s going to happen and more than once a season. Pre-plan so when it does, you already have an action plan in place.”

Getting players to understand the team’s energy transference goals is at the top of the list in making a program become a winning program. Kight says players pick up on patterns displayed by the head coach as well as by their position coach. “Coaches are great at explaining the finer points of energy use but are reluctant to follow their own words.”

While there is always a ‘big picture’ to all football programs, Kight is one to support the belief a player must focus on the ‘small picture’ as well. Coaches must get the players to understand the importance of getting over the small obstacles such as letting fatigue take over their thoughts during specific on-field drills or while in the weight room.

 “Get them to pick a focal point,” explains Kight. “Focus on the quick first-step in a drill instead of the number of reps the player will be completing throughout the drill period. Be ‘dialed’ into the right now and focus on what will make you a better player.”  Kight uses the term ‘reference point.’ What is the reference point a player can rely on when practice or the game gets tough?

“Gaining a bit of a ‘chip’ attitude,” said Kight. “Coaches may not have the best athletes, but if you get your energy right and transfer it into the players learning the small details, there will be many times when such preparation will overcome athleticism.”

RELATED CONTENT: [PODCAST] The Leadership Journey with Brian Kight: Episode 1 - Energy and Emotions

RELATED CONTENT: [PODCAST] CEO of Focus 3 Brian Kight talks about training players to overcome adversity

RELATED CONTENT: [PODCAST] Keith and Brian Kight talk about the 'Win by Don't' concept on behavior

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