We’ve all heard of those high school coaches who win the big game, take the state championship, and bask in the Friday night lights. They’re the stuff of legends. Those who make up your team stories, produce television shows, and even make movies recount the exploits of those men and women who manage to take a rag-tag group of kids and, against all odds, turn them into a championship-winning team that will go down in history.
So how do they do it? How do top high school coaches win the day, win the team, win the loyalty, and finally – win the trophy? If you can analyze their approaches, there are real-life lessons in their strategies that all of us can apply in our own jobs and everyday lives. Let’s take a closer look at some winning strategies of the best high school coaches.
Truly KNOW Your Players
First, you have to know the members of your team. Good coaches adapt to the players they’re working with. You have the strategy, but they have to execute it, so take the time to deeply know the people you’re working with. Assess their strengths, their potential, their weaknesses, and what motivates them to succeed.
Talk with your players. Observe them in their day-to-day interactions. Learn about their experiences, their skills, and their abilities. When you know who best can do what tasks, you’ll be better able to inspire each person to accomplish them.
Whether we’re talking about rookies or star players or underachievers, simply taking the time to get to know your team at the beginning of the season always pays off when the playoffs approach.
Next, you need a clear goal. High school coaches have a clear main goal that’s obvious to everyone right at the outset of the season. It could be the state championship, or it could be digging the team out of the basement and making sure they don’t finish last. Either way, everyone on the team knows what the goal is and what’s at stake.
Of course, on the way to the big goal, there are many small goals, such as trying hard at practice, scoring points, or winning a game. This is true in real life as well. On the way to scoring the big contract or hitting a new sales target, there must be many smaller achievements along the way.
A winning coach makes every goal clear to the team, so everyone works together to accomplish the small victories and the big wins. Part of this process is also making sure everyone on the team understands the role they play to accomplish the goals. They need to know what’s specifically expected of them and how they contribute to your overall success.
Make the Goals Tangible
Outside the world of high school sports, it can be much harder to define a clear goal for a team of people. Sometimes it’s as easy as a sales target, but other times it’s more esoteric, such as better team communication or a smoother workflow. These can be hard goals to measure, and it can be even harder to track the progress toward that goal.
See if you can find a way to turn an intangible goal into something concrete for your team. If you want better workplace morale, what about getting an engraved trophy for “Best Team Player” and taking office nominations for a monthly winner? Break that one big goal into smaller, achievable goals and find a way to reward your team along the way for steps in the right direction.
Most top high school coaches say one key to winning is being honest with the team about the challenges they face and the changes they need to make to achieve their goals. This takes a lot of one-on-one time and individual coaching, but it’s well worth the effort.
It can be tricky to strike the right balance when it comes to honest feedback with your team. Some people thrive with positive feedback. Others need to be coached differently. Since you’ve taken the time to get to know your individual team members, you should know what methods to use when it comes to talking to your players honestly.
Approach each person with respect and clear, instructive feedback. Then pay attention to their responses to make sure you struck the right notes.
Course-Correct When Needed
Winning coaches also know it’s important to course-correct from time to time. If something isn’t working or if the team isn’t coming together the way you want or need, take a step back and try something different.
You can’t coach a winning team with a strategy that fails, so you have to be ready to stop, analyze what’s going wrong, and change direction if you need to. Many a championship has slipped away because a coach stuck to a strategy that clearly wasn’t working.
Allow for Creativity
Make sure you leave room for the creativity and feedback of others. Even the best coaches know they don’t know everything. You have to create a space where your team feels welcome to contribute their best, and sometimes most-unexpected ideas.
Ideally, you’ve worked so well with each member of your team that you have sparked something new in them, and something really wonderous will come from it.
Whether you play sports, watch them on TV, or don’t care for competition, realize that sports clichés are clichés for a reason. They work! Take it one game at a time. Focus on the fundamentals. Give it everything you’ve got.
Sports can serve as a great metaphor for life itself, so it makes sense to look at what works on the field and take a few lessons from some of high school’s most winning coaches.