Reality Filter: Leading a System or Leading People?

Among other hats I wear, I have the fortune to be athletic director for a school system. This works for me.

I certainly have always enjoyed sports at all levels. I grew up in Little League and Pop Warner. I played high school football and wrestled. I played rugby in college . . . and then in Mens Divisions I and II until I was 31. I’ve been a triathlete and still ride a pretty swift road bicycle. I love to watch NC U-14 Classic Riptides soccer.

And I have had many forays into educational leadership.

I’m seeing a lot of attention now directed at the development of coaches. Some very high quality programs are available. “Fundamentals of Coaching” by the National Federation of High Schools is one we are bringing to Carteret County on February 18. It is for newbies and old dogs alike.

This NFHS Fundamentals of Coaching Course provides a unique student-centered curriculum for interscholastic teacher/coaches, assisting them in creating a healthy and age appropriate athletic experience that supports the educational mission of our nation’s schools.

NFHS Fundamentals of Coaching consists of 5 units—

  • Unit 1: Educational Athletics and the Role of the Coach
  • Unit 2: The Coach as Manager
  • Unit 3: The Coach and Interpersonal Skills
  • Unit 4: The Coach and Physical Conditioning
  • Unit 5: The Coach as Teacher

Note that none of units are on X’s and O’s (game strategy). Mostly, it is all about working with people.

I find that much of the coaching development content and training crosses over into teaching and leadership. Therefore, this type of training cuts across the borders of athletics. Arguably, it is valid training for all in the educational business.

Over at The Why of it All, Ken Rodoff asks his favorite question:

Do you coach players or a system?

Honestly, it’s the quintessential question for any coach, lacrosse or technology. In fact, as the one year mark as Classrooms for the Future coach rapidly approaches, I’m finding it necessary to ask and answer this question daily.

Coaching A System
Can you say ‘film study’? You need to be able to break down your oppositions’ tendencies. Implementing a system before a soul arrives is time-consuming and leaves little room for impromptu, on-the-fly changes. You’ve invested so much of yourself in design and planning, that no matter what occurs, you’ll pay no heed to the vociferous cries that scream for change.You’ll be saddled with a deep-rooted belief system, one that few can sway or alter.

Coaching A Player
Get ready to read and react. You’ll have to identify strengths and areas that need improvement. An ability to see, really see, needs to be an innate quality. You operate like you are putting together a jigsaw puzzle…but under extreme duress; sirens blaring, clock tick-tick-ticking away. Putting people in the right situation is what matters. Everyone appears happy, conducting themselves in a fashion that seems beneficial, but you keep moving them in order to maintain the status quo.

No easy answer. But the following questions may help form a reality filter. Do we coach basketball or students? Do we teach math or students? Do we run buses or transport students? Do we serve lunch or serve students?

Notice the semantic difference in the following two statements?

    • I coach football.
      • I teach students to play football.

        Do we lead a school or lead people?


        One Response to Reality Filter: Leading a System or Leading People?

        1. ken says:

          I like ‘I teach students to play lacrosse’. Everything we do, in a classroom, on the pitch, on the lax field, is about forging relationships.

          Try as I might, that little yellow lacrosse ball never responds, reciprocates, or grows as a result of my coaching it.

          But to look at the 300 student-athletes I have worked with over the last 9 years and there’s no doubt in my mind that they left my program or classroom as better people.

          I need only to look in the mirror to prove that point.

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