Management Philosophy for Coaches

This article was provided by Coaches Network

Bill Walsh is regarded as one of the greatest football coaches of all time, enjoying tremendous success at both the NFL and major college level. In the NFL, Walsh went 102–63–1 as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and won six division titles, three NFC Championship titles, and three Super Bowls.

Wash is known as the father of the West Coast Offense, but he’s also known for establishing an innovative set of management principles for coaching his team, establishing an approach that can be used by coaches at the high school level.

In a 1993 interview with the Harvard Business Review, Walsh discussed many of the principles behind his coaching management system, and they are valuable tips for all coaches to consider. Here are some of the Walsh’s comments from that article:

On the sacrifices a coach must make to establish a winning program:

“The coach must account for his ego. He has to drop or sidestep the ego barrier so that people can communicate without fear. They have to be comfortable that they will not be ridiculed if they turn out to be mistaken or if their ideas are not directly in line with their superior’s. That is where the breakthrough comes. That is what it takes to build a successful, winning organization.

“I tried to remove the fear factor from people’s minds so they could feel comfortable opening their mouths. They knew they could be wrong one time and then, when they got a little more information, change their opinion and not be demeaned for it. In fact, I made a point of reminding our coaching staff that I expected them to change their opinions and impressions over time. It’s quite natural: the more information you develop, the faster things can change.

On the essential management skills that are required of a successful head coach:

“The role of the head coach begins with setting a standard of competence. You have to exhibit a strong working knowledge of the game. The head coach must be able to function effectively and decisively in the most stressful situations. And the head coach must demonstrate resourcefulness—in particular, he is responsible for designing a system of football that is not simplistic. The head coach’s system should never reduce the game to the point where he can blame his players for success or failure simply because they did not physically overwhelm the opponents.

“Successful coaches realize that winning teams are not run by single individuals who dominate the scene and reduce the rest of the group to marionettes. Winning teams are more like open forums in which everyone participates in the decision-making process, coaches and players alike, until the decision is made. Others must know who is in command, but a head coach must behave democratically. Then, once a decision is made, the team must be motivated to go ahead and execute it.”

On establishing a team culture in which the players feel they can participate in the team’s direction:

“It starts with the expectations the head coach sets. It is part of the job to expect everyone in the organization to be an expert in his or her particular area of responsibility, to refine their skills continually, and to be physically and intellectually committed to the team. The head coach has to make it clear that he expects everyone to participate and volunteer his or her thoughts, impressions, and ideas. The goal is to create a communication channel that allows important information to get from the bottom to the top.”

On developing a structure so that players are prepared for handle their roles:

“Take a group of ten players. The top two will be super motivated. Superstars will usually take care of themselves. Anybody can coach them. The next four, with the right motivation and direction, will learn to perform up to their potential. The next two will be marginal. With constant attention, they will be able to accomplish something of value to the team. The last two will waste your time. They won’t be with you for long. Our goal is to focus our organizational detail and coaching on the middle six. They are the ones who most need and benefit from your direction, monitoring, and counsel.

“Second, you talk to each player and indicate the importance of everyone’s participation in the process—that it is important for everyone to express himself, to offer ideas, explanations, solutions, formulas. You want everyone to enter into the flow of ideas, even ideas that may seem extreme in their creativity.

“You are actually striving for two things at the same time: an organization where people understand the importance of their jobs and are committed to living within the confines of those jobs and to taking direction; and an organization where people feel creative and adaptive and are willing to change their minds without feeling threatened. It is a tough combination to achieve. But it’s also the ultimate in management.”

On the basics behind the right management style for coaching a team:

“The easiest thing is to be truly honest and direct. In fact, it sounds just great to say that you are going to be honest and direct. But insensitive, hammer-like shots that are delivered in the name of honesty and openness usually do the greatest damage to people. The damage ends up reverberating throughout the entire organization. Over time, people will lose the bonding factor they need for success. And over time, that directness will isolate you from the people with whom you work.

“The real task is to lead people through the troubled times, when they are demoted or find themselves at the end of their playing days, and to help them maintain as much of their self-esteem as possible. These are the tasks that really define the job of the manager. A manager’s job is not simply having a desk filled with family pictures and a wall covered by plaques for good behavior. It’s developing the skills to understand and deal with people.”

Click here to read the full article in the Harvard Business Review.

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