coaching (present participle
train or instruct (a team or player)
“He has coached the Edmeston Panthers for six years”
give (someone) extra or private teaching.
instruct · teach · tutor · school · educate · upskill · guide · drill · prime · cram · put someone through their paces · train
This month’s blog is, again, based off conversations I have had with a few team owners and captains as of late. The topic is centered around coaching, or rather more specifically, how to be a good, better, or just simply a coach. It’s often an overlooked position and one that, in the sport of paintball, doesn’t get as much attention from teams as it should. I truly believe that several teams or programs could benefit from having a dedicated individual who can help the players grow as well as allow them to focus on playing. But first, I think there needs to be a little context or background on where I am coming from.
There was a time I believed coaching in paintball was just an empty title. More than likely, the “coach” was the guy who called a line or maybe he managed logistical issues. Or he was the guy who was yelling from the sidelines when in game “coaching” was legal in paintball. He was anything but a coach by the very definition of the word or what most of us think of when we hear the term. There was no Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, or John Wooden of paintball. And I never really thought there would be. Sure, there have been several great leaders in paintball, Shane Pestana (LA Ironmen), Alex Martinez ( San Antonio X-Factor), Bart Yachimec (Edmonton Impact), Mike Hinman (San Diego Aftermath/Dynasty), and Rusty Glaze (Dynasty) to name just a few. Please do not get me wrong, they all are incredibly talented leaders and a coach must be a good leader. But I guess I never really looked at them as “coaches” per say back then (I would now). Maybe I was hanging onto images or memories of my grade school and high school wrestling, boxing, baseball, and football coaches? Possibly. But “paintball coach” never really seemed practical. Sure, there were talented individuals who knew how to up a players skill set, or motivate a team, or suggest approaches but no definitive coaching role.
That all changed when I met Paul Richards.
Baca, or Top as I affectionately called him during our time together, was my introduction to what a paintball coach could and should be. He was the whole package of what one would think of when using the term coach. He was a leader but also the offensive and defensive coordinator with managerial capabilities who had an eye for talent. He not only recognized who the potential talented players were but also specific talents in each player. Sure, he knew the Xs and Os. But his greatest superpower, in my opinion, was his recognition of a player’s abilities and how those abilities could be leveraged to win matches. He was truly talented in that way. He could take the weakest link on a roster and make them an asset simply by using the one or two things they were good at and mixing that in with the other tools on the team to meet the needs of the point. He made it look and seem so easy.
If you read any books on coaching, sports psychology, or biographies about famous coaches in professional sports, you will see that almost all of them have similar themes. We covered the psychological approach to them here – https://zenandtheartofpaintball.com/2016/08/21/dodge-duck-dip-dive-and-dodge/
(Or look to your right on the page and click the link for past blogs on the topic of coaching – might I suggest the following:
(trigger warning on “touche’ cliche”)
Most successful coaches recognize that, besides the importance of the Xs and Os, there is another element that is just as significant. A solid relationship between the player and coach is paramount to a successful process. It must be symbiotic (mutually beneficial). At its core, its very foundation, there must be, there has to be, the element of trust. The player has to trust the coach to identify what will make them better. The coach must trust that the player has the capability of meeting that level of improvement.
It is worth noting however that the relationship must be in the best interest of the team while still fulfilling the needs of the player. This includes, but should not be limited to, benching/cutting that player or replacing that coach.
Here are some things I have learned over the years, whether from those great leaders I mentioned earlier or from other walks of life and sports.
- Failure is not always bad. We can all learn from our mistakes. They can make us better. Failure is “fertilizer”. It creates the healthy environment in which a player and coach can grow. If you can eliminate future mistakes by learning from them, you are on the right path to growing into a great player or coach.
- Knowledge and discipline are indispensable. But without truly caring for a player, genuinely wanting what is best for them, those two traits won’t matter. See, if the player knows I am real, I can let them have it and then we can share a beer and joke about it later.
- If you don’t see yourself becoming or utilizing this method, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful coach. It just means you will have to use something else to gain that trust and confidence.
- Piggy backing on the bullet point above, I have seen my most success when I treat the players like family. As Rocky Cagnoni said in PUSH, “It’s like a big family… I mean, people see us fightin’ and everything but that’s what a real family does. I think anyways. I mean, fightin’ one second and the next second it’s all cool. It’s the heat of the moment. I think that that’s what gets the passion. I’m Italian, I like the passion…”
- Coach Paul taught me that the key to coaching is taking players and truly analyzing their ability. Then putting them in a position where they can improve not only the effectiveness of the TEAM but gain individual improvement for the benefit of the team. Getting players to play better than they think they can is a superpower.
- Coaching can be complex or it can be simple. It depends on the assets in front of you. It’s like a tool box. You need the right tool for the job (simple) or it can be like a puzzle and you have to find the right pieces then put them together to make things work (complex).
I can’t remember where I read it, but the comment stuck with me. “All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.” (I just looked it up – Bill McCartney – head football coach at the University of Boulder Colorado from 82’ to 94’). How profound… and yet how astoundingly true. A coach is a guide. He can show you the way, but the player has to commit and follow the path laid out before him. It is ultimately the player’s choice. Coaches can’t execute for you on the field. You have to do that as a player. But what if the coach has chosen the wrong path or doesn’t really know or recognize what a player needs?
As a coach you have to recognize the power you wield when the player trusts you. In other words, as a coach, you have to know the WHY behind each instruction. I have seen it a hundred times. A “coach” shows a player something but doesn’t explain the why. “Just do it this way.” Or worse, makes players run a drill that is teaching them the wrong thing or maybe emphasizing the wrong thing. This can cause regression, delay growth, or just plain teach a bad habit. Understand the why before implementing the how. You better know how to implement said how. (That was a fun sentence to write.) Ultimately the key to gaining and building trust is simple. Be honest. An honest coach is a successful coach. If you don’t know, so say. But if you do, explain why…
Another key factor I have learned from the great paintball leaders I mentioned earlier (some I call friends and others I just know from meeting in pits and short conversations) also happens to be one of the 4 C’s mentioned in that blog post from 2016. It is confidence. But not confidence from a player’s perspective or a champion’s perspective, from a coaching perspective. I think one of the key elements about being a successful coach is that you have to have a sense of confidence about what you are doing. You are essentially selling a process, a concept, a vision of the future. Anyone who comes in trying to show me something that seems unsure of what they are doing, I may not have checked out the moment you opened your mouth, but I was most certainly skeptical. So be confident. Now I didn’t say smug. There is a difference. I often tell my players, “Let your game speak for you… no need to make anything personal through words. Your game will speak much louder than anything your mouth says.” This should apply to coaching as well. They either see the results from what you have implemented or they don’t. Your actions and the results should speak for you.
A good coach has to be able to fill multiple roles. They must be a good communicator, motivator, teacher, goal identifier, confidence builder, organizer, manager, politician, physicist, wizard, cat herder, and mentor. (okay, some of those I made up) They must recognize the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities, and the threats to the team and plan accordingly. A coach takes action anticipating the outcome based off data he sees and knows. He creates a culture that will benefit all the players, not just a few. But he can’t do it alone. He has to have buy in from the players.
I guess, in the end, coaching is all about “the process”. One of my favorite moments as a coach is when I see that light bulb go off in a player’s head when they “get it”. I love when players begin to recognize their potential and see it come to fruition in a match. I love when teams see the hard work pay off by making Sunday or winning those tough matches. I love the practices where you see players dig deep and really give you 150%, the ones who want to be there, the ones who believe… that’s good stuff man. At least, I think so… that’s why I do it.
Be water my friends.