Thursday, January 15, 2009

The players are the medium through which a coach expresses his philosophy

Dr. Jack Ramsay's 1978 book "The Coach's Art" is 30 years old, but it's as relevant as ever.

Here's a good excerpt:

Coaching is a private act sometimes performed in public places. Coaching in a game is only part of the job, but it's the part that finally counts the most. A losing coach is, sooner than not, a former coach. If the team goes badly, the coach is responsible. But if the team wins, the players deserve and get the bulk of the credit.

I like it that way. I know when I've done my job well, and savor the satisfaction it brings. No one can ever take that away.

But coaching is an insecure profession, requiring of its practitioners a capacity to withstand external pressures while leading a team through a long, demanding season.

A coach has to have a firm sense of himself, sustained by intense powers of concentration. I hate to lose, but I know that once a game is over I have to put it out of my mind in order to prepare for the next one. I have to minimize the depth of my disappointment, disguising it from my players because it's infectious. Maintaining my ability to concentrate, to focus all of my attention on the task at hand, is part of my own responsibility as a coach.

The philosophy [of coaching] determines every aspect of practice, the objectives of meetings, and finally the game plan. It is the cement which binds every activity of a coach and his team, linking practice drills to game performance.

The preparation of a team begins with planning practices, for it is on the practice floor that teaching the game occurs. The importance of planning practices can't be overstated. A practice session's objectives, expressed in a practice plan, must be determined in advance -- and in detail.

The players need to know the point of what they will be doing. Posting the practice schedule in the locker room, I've found, is a good technique. It informs the players both about what we will be doing and how long we will take doing it.

Players like organization, they like order, they will work hard when they see the purpose of what they're doing. When every player knows what's expected of him and why, practices will be productive. And then even hard, physically demanding sessions will be fun, building the sense of common purpose and collective affection every good team has.

When players and coaches feel good about what's happening in practice, they will carry that spirit with them into games. I want every practice well organized, productive, and conducted with the same intensity and commitment as a game is played.

A coach who allows players to depart from his plan at practice can expect the same thing in a game. If it is his team, it must perform the way he expects it to. The players are the medium through which a coach expresses his philosophy.