When I began coaching a couple things were quickly apparent. First, there were a lot of things I didn’t know and I needed to be ok relearning the game from a different perspective. Second, as a coach you must have a plan and a philosophy. Initially we think we have ideas and ways in which things should be done but ultimately until the hours we spend add up and the games and trainings we see continue to mount, we can’t truly formalize a philosophy. Even though my coaching career is still in its infancy, my attitudes and beliefs toward various matters are taking shape. I have learned that it is extremely important as a young coach to deliberately think about important issues surrounding the sport you coach, the players you coach, the way you coach and ultimately why you believe what you do about these issues. Legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Wash sums this up perfectly,
“A philosophy is the aggregate of your attitudes toward fundamental matters and is derived from a process of consciously thinking about critical issues and developing rational reasons for holding one particular belief or position rather than another.”
The beautiful thing about developing a philosophy is that as individuals we have the freedom to develop it how we see fit. That’s really the point. As you read more about different coaches and leaders you see how each has their own way of doing things, a philosophy they built over time through vast amounts of experience. But what’s interesting about a few that I have come across recently is their simplicity in nature and focus on basic things. For example, Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s philosophy was summed up nicely in Tom Verducci’s book, The Cubs Way,
“Maddon’s entire managerial philosophy begins with those interpersonal relationships. His golden rule of managing can be summed this way: before you can manage and lead, first you must establish trust, and before you can establish trust, first you need to establish a personal relationship with your players.”
Another example of the basis of a philosophy that resonated with me was from Gregg Popovich. His assistant coach Ettore Messina describes it nicely,
“one of the biggest things in coach Popovich’s philosophy is the ‘we can’t skip any steps’ principle. It means there’s time and place for every process. In order to not skip any steps, it means that the Spurs must start from the very beginning. As anyone who attempts to master any skill, the fundamentals must be strong before you can advance. And that is exactly what the Spurs do every season.”
Just two examples but you can see how to each is own and they have foundational reasons for why they believe what they do, and how it is then implemented within their teams.
But we must remember that our philosophies must remain fluid otherwise we run the risk of becoming stuck in our ways without the ability or willingness to evolve. Martí Perarnau describes how Pep Guardiola’s philosophy changed while observing him during his time at Bayern Munich,
“A good coach should be constantly revising his beliefs, amending and adapting them to achieve the perfect synergy between his own philosophy and the club he represents. A belief system should never become the straitjacket of dogma and it’s clear that Guardiola now sees his philosophy as just a frame of reference within which he can move and expand.”
Through our experiences we have the freedom to cherrypick things we like and utilize them, or observe things done in ways we ultimately don’t agree with and choose to do it differently. What’s important is that we don’t just say I like this or that with no foundation underneath it. We need to, as Coach Walsh says “develop rational reasons for holding one particular belief or position rather than another”. This stuck out to me because there are many times we start talking about issues or ideas without really believing in them, or without giving careful thought to why we think this way. This in turn can make us sound unauthentic when we relay certain messages to others. Which as I am sure we’ve all experienced and can have crippling effects within a group or team.
Ultimately how I have approached beginning to build a philosophy will be different from you, or the next person, but what’s important is that from the outset we must think about this deliberately.