Some Secrets of Good Head Coaching – Also for Lawyers

OK, what does this have to do with law?
See e.g. the Lawyer Coach Blog and Five Principles of Coaching

Some Secrets of Good Head Coaching

The LawPundit discovered by chance some years ago that he had a natural talent for coaching as he co-coached an amateur European youth football (soccer) team in Germany. The result was an undefeated team and recognition in the German soccer magazine Kicker.

In our first regular season game, we faced the league champion of the previous year, who had won 6-1 against our team’s players the year before. 6-1 is a virtual blowout in soccer.

This time, we emerged victorious 11-1. Although our talent base was thin, we fielded the better TEAM game after game, and maintained that same average goal difference throughout the season, scoring 56 goals and giving up only 5 goals in our conference. In other words, we gave up fewer goals the entire season than the same players had given up in their first game the previous year.

Although we had the same players, we had a vastly different TEAM.

What were our coaching secrets?

Please note that the following coaching “secrets” are not secrets to good head coaches, whether in sports, law, executive or other corporate matters. Indeed, the reason that we have such an extraordinarily high opinion of the head coaching abilities of someone like Larry Kehres of the Football Division III Mount Union Purple Raiders, is because we have seen Kehres, college football’s winningest coach, publicly express exactly the same principles that we have applied independently as a coach ourselves.

But one need not listen to us – listen to Kehres. As one veteran rival coach remarked about Kehres: “How does he win all the time?… I wish I knew, because then I might beat him one day.” That reminded me of a comment made by one of the local coaches to a friend of mine about my own coaching: “How does he always win?

Here are some “secrets” about winning as a coach that we have in common with Larry Kehres.

Secret Number 1 : Recruit the Right Players and Hold Them to Higher Standards
(This can also apply to the recruitment of the right personnel in any organization)

Stephanie Storm quotes Kehres:

You have to recruit good people, then assist them in their development.

Milan Simonich quotes Kehres at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concerning his recruiting of players:

” “I only ask them three questions, but they’re important…. Are you a good man? Do you have a passion for football? Do you plan on getting the grades you’re capable of?” “

Stephanie Storm in the Akron Beacon Journal of November 28, 2003, writes:

Football might be the focus of the coach’s life, but he teaches his players that their values ought to extend beyond the field.

During football season, players’ grades actually improve.

Coach says it’s important that we hold ourselves to higher standards, especially when so much attention is focused on us during the season,” wide receiver Randell Knapp said.” [emphasis added by LawPundit]

Kehres expects his players to give their best, every day. As quoted by Nancy Armour at

“I’m proud of the fact that our men do learn that you have to do, day in and day out, what you’re supposed to do,” Kehres said. “I don’t expect (victories). However, do I expect a certain level of performance throughout the offseason in terms of what we do and then, in the season, in how we practice so that we would have a chance to go down that path? Yes, I expect that.”

Secret Number 2: Prepare Your Team to Play with Passion and and as much Perfection as they are Capable of

Larry Kehres says
that “The job of a coach is to prepare his team.

This involves training in all of its aspects, including mental and physical preparedness.

As Milan Simonich writes at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

He [Kehres] took a solid program and turned it into a spectacular one by emphasizing precision, mental preparation and weight training.”

Players on and off the field must know what responsibilities they have and what action they are to take in any particular game situation. A player who is undisciplined off the field is not likely to exercise discipline on the field. It is the whole player that counts.

The onus hereby is on the COACHES. Kehres is quoted by Al Eisele at the Huffington Post:

“I always try to get the assistant coaches who work with me to understand that if there’s no learning by the kids, there’s no teaching…. I’ve tried hard to get the coaches to accept that as the only measure of performance, and there are just no excuses accepted. If there’s no learning, there’s no teaching…..”

That standard of teaching and learning demands extremely knowledgeable and effective education of players.

Stephanie Storm in the Akron Beacon Journal of November 28, 2003, writes:

Kinnard and many other team leaders point to the precision with which the program is run, the attention to every detail all the way down to scheduling the number of minutes for each practice drill, as a main reason for their overwhelming success.

The result of that philosophy is awesome.

Milan Simonich writes at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

He works for perfection,” said Matt Caponi, a senior defensive back and a Baldwin High School graduate. “That’s how his offense has been for the last three years — perfect.” …

On the field, Kehres lays down a singular challenge to everybody who pulls on a helmet. “I expect them to play better than they ever thought they could,” he says.

Coaches, when is the last time one of your players called your offense – perfect?

Jack Ewing, president of Mount Union College, is quoted by Milan Simionich at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as saying about Larry Kehres and the football team program:

This is a culture of excellence that I have never seen before.

Every coach creates a “culture” of some kind by his coaching. What is yours?

Secret Number 3 : A Coach Must be Absolutely Objective at All Times

Effective coaching demands absolute objectivity about the skills, strengths and weaknesses of players and coaches, on both sides of the ball. Wishful thinking is at the heart of bad decision-making.

If you have a weaker team than the opponent – accept it. A weaker team can beat a stronger team if the coaches correctly recognize that they are weaker and take proper measures to try to offset that weakness. Here we can point to Stanford’s incredible record upset of USC this year 24-23, even though Stanford was the underdog by more than 40 points. Prior to that game, as Ted Venegas, Columnist for wrote at Yahoo sports:

The Cardinal have completely revamped their approach defensively. Before this season, they ran a passive 3-4 defense which was of the read and react variety. This year, they do nothing but attack…. Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer came to the conclusion that Stanford did not have the talent to remain passive, so they have to force the action.

The Stanford upset of USC was enabled by good coaching under the leadership of football director and head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Stanford coaching staff, who objectively recognized their weaknesses and compensated for them.

The principle also applies to basketball. Tubby Smith, former basketball coach at Kentucky and now in his first year at Minnesota where the team is sporting a 5-1 record as opposed to 2-6 last year with much the same players and a similar schedule, says about coaching:

If you’re not skilled enough offensively, defensively you can make up for it with hustle and sheer determination and effort,” Smith said. “We feel like we have to overachieve.

Secret Number 4 : A Coach Must Work Optimally to Develop the Players He Has

Stephanie Storm in the Akron Beacon Journal of November 28, 2003, in “Team Concept Rules” writes about Larry Kehres’ assessment of players as follows:

When he [Kehres] thinks back to the start of the run that began Mount Union’s dominance, Kehres remembers a meeting held among the team’s staff in the early ’80s when he was an assistant.

‘We just decided to quit pouting about what we didn’t have and concentrate on improving the players we had,’ Kehres said.

‘We went with the idea that if some of the players we recruited weren’t as good as some others when they arrived, it was our job to help them catch up,’ Kehres said. ‘It was sort of, “Come on, let’s quit whining and feeling sorry for ourselves and make the most of what we’ve got.

What happens when you do not develop players properly (required in college ball) but expect them to perform automatically (as is more likely in the NFL) can be seen at Notre Dame, where Charlie Weis, a former NFL offensive coordinator, went 3-9 this year as the head coach of the Irish. As Posted at (and cited at BlogIron) by Kevin Donahue:

Charlie Weis is an outstanding offensive mind – without question – but he is failing as a head coach.

There is nothing in his resume to suggest that Weis is capable of developing talent. He certainly didn’t have to develop players in the NFL, just show them the plays, tweak here & there, and collect the trophies. But now – with his team needing it the most – Weis is not developing talent at Notre Dame.

Good recruits are coming into the Notre Dame system and – but for their own inner passion to excel – languishing under Weis. There is no such thing as marked improvement, it is simply a transaction with Weis. It almost as if the recruits are NFL free agents, signing with the team and then expected to use their talents to improve the team. There’s nothing to suggest that Weis is actually taking a player from one level and ELEVATING his game to the next level. And this is Weis’s Achilles’ heel – he isn’t developing players.“

Nebraska had the same problem with Bill Callahan, who had proven himself as an offensive coordinator, but not as a head coach, having inherited a Super Bowl team for one successful season and then going 4-12 the next year. It is one thing to develop offensive plays for professional football players at the top – both Callahan (Oakland) and Weis (New England) were offensive coordinators for Super Bowl teams – but it is an entirely different matter to head coach a college team, that may not have the talent at all to execute effectively many of the plays that a brilliant offensive mind can come up with. Plus, equal attention has to be paid to the defense. The job is simply a different one and a coach must adapt coaching to the personnel that he has.

Secret Number 5 : A Coach Must Adapt the Style of Play to the Players Available

Stephanie Storm in the Akron Beacon Journal of November 28, 2003, quotes Kehres about the style of play that a football team should have, dependent on the players available:

Some years you don’t have the kind of players you need to say, run the option,” he said. ‘As a coach, you can’t just do what you want to do. You have to match it to the ebb and flow of the kind of players you have.

Especially coaches who rely on a “fixed system” and then try to force that fixed system upon their players, whether those players are suited to that system or not, are not likely to be successful. Larry Kehres adapts continuously – to the times and to his players
Let us tune in to Division III football and the blog, the D3 Football Daily Dose, where commenter Mainjack writes as follows about Mount Union’s head coach Larry Kehres (“LK” in the posting quoted below), :

I’ve been a bit surprised that no one has mentioned how LK has adapted his teams over the past 15 years to stay ahead of the curve. In the early 90’s when the west coast offense was first starting to creep into the language, LK embra[c]ed it, and blew people away with his 5 wideouts and wide open passing. Back in those days as soon as MUC got anywhere near mid-field, they were going for the bomb. As the 90’s came to a close, and defenses were figuring out the west coast schemes, LK went to a very good running back, a blocking fullback and a tight end. Chuck Moore and Dan Pugh helped remake the Mount union offense, and allowed the passing game to be as successful as it needed to be. Now you have Kmic absolutely carrying the load behind a massive offensive line, with deep threat possibility in Garcon, and two or three other receivers doing damage on short routes……when necessary.
Football is cyclical, but LK has always stayed one step ahead of where the game is going, which is why they have not had many down years (if you can call one loss a down year).

Secret Number 6 : A Coach Must Concentrate on the Basics

One of the things that shocked this writer about the Callahan-coached Huskers was that they seemed to have forgotten how to block and tackle with passion, i.e. the most basic skills required of a top football team. Coaches who spend all their time designing plays and looking at films of opposing teams are not going to be successful if the basics are thereby neglected. The game must still be played – on the field – not just on the drawing board.

One coach who understood this was UCLA’s fabled basketball coach, John Wooden, who made his highly touted players run basic basketball drills like shooting layups continuously, as he explained, so that layups would be made automatically during game situations and not be missed. The same applies to tackles in football. Indeed, the attention to fundamentals by John Wooden was legendary. As written by Kyle Colvett for Inside Tennessee at

The most basic of football skills and behaviors need to be emphasized. John Wooden, he of the ten NCAA basketball titles at UCLA, the Wizard of Westwood, used to begin the practice season with an entire session on how to put on socks and shoes. Players were troubled by blisters and foot problems and he discovered that the players didn’t smooth out all the wrinkles around their heels and around their little toes, places where the blisters were prone to occur. He sometimes noted that they didn’t lace their shoes properly or that they wore shoes that were a size too large. Such details mattered.

Secret Number 7 : Yelling and Screaming is NOT Good Coaching, but Ritual and Routine ARE : Sports Psychology, Mental Fitness and Mental Discipline

See in this regard, for example, Secret Ingredient at, which is about sports psychology. We mention it here because sports psychology is immensely important, and as pointed out there, quite correctly:

Studies show that yelling and screaming does NOT work with 94% of youth football players… and it can make it even harder for them to improve…

Varsity high school football coaches that use routines and rituals with their teams are three times as likely to have a winning record….”

That is absolutely correct. We have seen time and again on playing fields where coaches, parents, relatives and fans are screaming and yelling at their players, all to no avail.

SCREAMING AND YELLING is a sign of poor coaching, poor parenting, poor relations to other people, and poor spectating. It is a sign that you are unable to cope rationally with the situation that faces you. It is evidence of a lack of mental fitness and an absence of mental discipline. This does not mean that one can not be intense and enthusiastic, but it does mean that coaches yelling and screaming at players is simply a waste of time. John Wooden is quoted as saying:

Intensity makes you stronger. Emotionalism makes you weaker.

The job of any coach is the same as that of any parent or educator, it is the job of rational instruction. Such instruction often best involves ritual and routine, to improve focus and reduce error.

One of the secrets of Tiger Woods, the best golfer of all time, for example, is ritual and routine. As written by Bill Cole, founder and CEO of Procoach Systems, Silicon Valley, California, in What Makes Tiger Tick?:

[Tiger] maintains personal rituals before playing and practicing, and before each shot he takes.

Cole points out clearly that physical AND mental fitness must be elements of proper instruction for successful coaching. With respect to the mental fitness of Tiger Woods, Cole observes these strengths, which a coach should try to implement in his coaching and inculcate in his players:

1) Very high personal standards (Larry Kehres agrees) and accountability
This applies to conduct off and on the field

2) Unrelenting mental discipline
On our soccer team, for example, we demanded and enforced strict mental discipline. Players were not allowed to yell at other players or to argue with referees – these were grounds for us, the coaches, to immediately remove a player from the field. Players were expected to concentrate on THEIR playing of the game and on nothing else.

3) Confidence-building by focused practice – achieving permanence of skills through practice
For example, we often see people at golf driving ranges, senselessly hitting one ball after the other as fast as they can, gaining nothing from the exercise. Practice must be focused on gaining permanence in a given skill. Practice must focus on “perfecting” something, which means that time must be taken to concencrate on what is being done. John Wooden is quoted for this:

Do not mistake activity for achievement.

4) Focus on the process – not focus simply on winning or losing
Studies show that the difference between equally-talented champions and non-champions is the absence of fear in champions – they are not haunted by the fear of losing, but concentrate on the process of winning, doing what it takes to win, regardless of the specter of losing.

Some selected sites touching upon good coaching are:

Wooden’s Pyramid of Success
Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” – John Wooden
The Mental Game Coach (TM)
Training and Coaching Tips for Youth Basketball Practice by Bryan McCormick
No-How Coaching by Coach John Gagliardi, some of whose No-Hows are:

  • No fear of being different
  • No throwing away money
  • No top-heavy staff
  • No reverence for titles.
  • No busy work
  • No substituting Mission Statements for doing the job
  • No withholding honor earned
  • No substituting reams of paper for action
  • No being a jerk
  • No focusing on mistakes.
  • No substituting putzing for achieving
  • No celebrating the heros only
  • No overloading by overanalysis
  • No fear of taking a risk
  • No giving power to setbacks
  • No settling for less than the best
  • No focus on winning everything for soccer coaching
Football Training – soccer coaching links
Football Coaching Strategies – by the AFCA – detailed at Human Kinetics

  • Running game—Tom Osborne, John McKay, and Darrell Royal
  • Passing game—Bill Walsh, Steve Spurrier, and LaVell Edwards
  • Defense—Dick Tomey, Barry Alvarez, Dave Wannstedt, and Jerry Sandusky
  • Kicking game—Spike Dykes and John Cooper
  • Philosophy, motivation, and management—Eddie Robinson and Joe Paterno

Offensive Football Strategies – by the AFCA
Defensive Football Strategies – by the AFCA
The AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) has more books
– check your online bookshop
Football Tools – Training Systems, Playbooks, DVDs etc.
Grant Teaff with the Master Coaches
Youth Coaching Information at Y-Coach
Better Coaching – Australian Sports Commission
Guide to Coaching Youth Football
UK Football Coaching Network (soccer)
Better Rugby Coaching by Dan Cottrell
Coach Carl – Cycling
New Sports Technology and Coaching Solutions- e.g. XOS Technologies including links to basketball coaching sites
Progressive Leadership FAQ on [Corporate] Coaching, Knowledge Management and Organizational Development
ACTO – Association of Coach Training Organizations (Corporate) see their directory
10 Steps to Better [Corporate] Coaching – TSO Consulting
Five Principles of Coaching