Category Archives: Coaching nerds

4 essential items every coach needs to get better


Folks who are fixer uppers or tinkerers know that the key to handling any situation is having a nice toolbox.  Whether its needle nosed pliers or a power saw or cordless drill…these things will prove to be essential for any job that needs to be completed.  And it’s the same with coaching!  We need to have a toolbox that is stocked so that we’re able to deal with the disgruntled player, the starter whose spot is about to be taken, as well as the athletic director that wants you to fundraise a ridiculous amount of money each year.

Here’s four things that every coach should have in their toolbox:

Mentors When I took my first head coaching job at age 24, my toolbox only had a hammer and a couple of nails clanking around in it…not nearly enough for the repair project I’d taken on!  I was certainly enthusiastic, but that needed to be combined with knowledge…and I was a bit short on that.  Enter our men’s basketball coach who was a legend in his field and had a head full of coaching genius that he was willing to share.  So I’d haul my butt up to his office about once a week and we’d chat.  Sometimes about my team, sometimes about his, but each and every time I learned something from this man.

Peers Here’s one thing I know: coaches love talking about coaching.  Once you find folks with a similar philosophy, make it a point to talk to them and pick their brains.  I truly believe that coaching is coaching so it doesn’t matter if you talk to the football coach or the soccer coach…if you share the same philosophical foundation, you’ve set yourself up for fun and challenging conversations about coaching.

Seminars/Conventions Be a coaching nerd!  Go to your sport’s convention…and attend the sessions (not just the social stuff) and hang out after it’s over and chat with the presenter.  Go to local clinics even if you don’t think you’ll learn something new…you certainly won’t if you don’t go!  Plus other coaches will be there and maybe you’ll be able to chat them up and get a different viewpoint on an old problem.  This will help keep you current in your field.

Books I read a lot of books.  I read books for myself in order to grow in my leadership and influence.  I also read books that I think will be good for my team to read during the season.  Sometimes they’re sports books, sometimes they’re business oriented, and other times they’re faith-based…but what they all share in common is that I think that they’ll make me a better coach.

What do you think?  What would you add to the list?

The 3 Types Of Great Coaches

sports coachsource

I’m a big fan of the book, The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle.  Because of that, I follow his blog, because I can always find good stuff there.  The Best Kind of Coach is a great post that talks about the power of great coaches.  Check out his different types while keeping in mind that they all have the potential to be great.

Coyle calls this the “old-school” coach.  I had some shut-up-sit-down-do-what-i-say-and-we’ll-win-games coaches in my life.  The upside to these types of coaches is the players know where they stand and know exactly what is expected of them.  The downside is the players may be afraid of their coach.  Also, there’s a rigidity of thought and system with this type.

Coyle calls these Teacher Coaches.  I think I’d fall into this category.  I always tell my team that my time on the court is over, so they are my chance to keep playing at a high level…by getting the knowledge out of my head and into theirs.  When I first got into coaching, I remember calling my old high school coach, who was a behavior coach.  Frustrated, I told him that my players had a million questions and wouldn’t just do what I said because I said to do it.  He agreed about this new (at the time) generation of athlete and he said that’s why he got out.  Now I enjoy explaining the hows and whys of my sport.  And I enjoy an athlete who wants to delve deeper into how they can become better.

Coyle says these coaches have an innate ability to see people in ways that they do not see themselves.  They do this in three ways: they connect, they communicate their belief, and they work to make that belief come true.  I wonder if this is what happens when teams get a new coach and all of a sudden a team that was underachieving turns into a powerhouse.  In that situation, there’s clearly more to the story than X’s and O’s.  That’s part of it, sure, but what (or who) makes those same players who were losing games believe that they shouldn’t be losing?  That they have what it takes to win?  And win on a large scale?

I suppose we’d want to be a combination of all of these, in a perfect world.  So what kind of coach are you?

Using Academic Criteria To Measure Athletic Success


In the academic world, schools create tiers for its students.  I would guess the bulk of students fall in the middle of the pack, taking regular classes and doing just fine.  Then there are the outliers…those that are well above or well below “average”.  Those that are in the well above category have the opportunity to enroll in Advanced Placement or Gifted and Talented classes and programs.

Clearly we do that in the athletic world as well.  Middle schools have A and B teams, high schools have junior varsity and varsity.  And the collegiate athletic system is amazingly stratified.

And I’d guess most of us even have these tiers on our teams.  We’ve got non-starters and starters.  And we’ve even got folks in the starter group who are more essential than others.  So what if we, like our academic friends, had criteria for that tiering?

Check out this criteria for gifted and talented.  There are many models mentioned in this article, so I just chose one of them.  According to the definition, gifted and talented children are those who demonstrate achievement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas:

  1. General intellectual ability.  In athletics, I’d figure that means their general sports IQ.  How well do they know the sport?  Do they understand what’s required of them situationally?  Are they able to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness while maximizing their own strengths?
  2. Specific academic aptitude.  I suppose this would be their knowledge of their particular position.  What do they know beyond just the basics of the position?  Are they students of the game?  Do they understand their role offensively, defensively, and corporately?
  3. Creative or productive thinking.  I talked about having tiers on our teams.  We’ve got players who just need to do what they’re told…as long as they don’t have to think outside of the box, they’re okay.  But then we’ve got those players who see two or three steps ahead of the opponent…those are the creative players.
  4. Leadership ability.  Do teammates naturally follow this player?  Are they supportive and challenging as the situation requires?  Are they equally comfortable talking to teammates and coaches?
  5. Psychomotor ability.  This is defined as the capacity to manipulate and control objects.  Things like controlling precision, multilimb coordination (sounds like sports to me!), reaction time, and response orientation.  When you get right down to it, these are the qualities that influence skill.  The more skilled the player, the more gifted and talented they are in respect to the team.

We may not have put names on the subjective nature of tiering our athletes, but I’m sure most of us do all of these things already.  If you’re like me, you’ll feel validated that you’re doing the right thing by your team.

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X Is For X-Factor: The Secret Of Success


Please join me for a fun series.  My mission, and I’ve chosen to accept it, is to write a post based on each letter of the alphabet.  The English major inside of me is very excited about this project…and my inner nerd is even more fired up!  Keep checking back as I tackle the intangibles of sport…from A to Z.


X-Factor:  “An unknown or hard-to-define but important special property.”

Much like Judge Potter Stewart famously said about another “x” word (x-rated movies), I may not be able to intelligently describe what the x-factor is…but I know it when I see it!  Young folks might call it swagger.  Coaches may call it confidence.  If asked, John Wooden may have called it poise.  Whatever it is…I know it when I see it.  So rather than talk about what the x-factor is, let’s talk about what it looks like.

If you’re a …, then the x-factor looks like…

Player.  Years ago, I had a player on my team who was tall, but she wasn’t my tallest player.  She was good, but not my best player.  She could hit, but she wasn’t my best hitter.  She was a good defender, but her technique (despite my efforts) wasn’t stellar.  She wasn’t a lot of things, but she was a winner.  Whether it was practice or live competition, this young woman elevated herself and those around her to play at a high level.  She played with a focused intensity that simultaneously frightened and motivated her teammates.  Her x-factor: Confidence in who she was as a player and an unapologetic requirement for those around her to step up.

Administrator.  God bless those folks who want to be athletic directors and hold other administrative positions within athletic departments.  I used to think that I wanted to be an administrator until I saw what their jobs entail.  Every institution is different, of course, and will require a different x-factor to be successful.  If you operate a club team, your x-factor might be an ability to shamelessly promote your club and your members.  If you work at an elite prep school, your x-factor would entail the amazing ability to put out fires from entitled athletes and parents.  The ultimate x-factor for an administrator would be to find the right institutional fit for you and your skill set.

Coach.  I like watching coaches coach their teams.  It doesn’t have to be my own sport, I just enjoy watching the different ways in which coaches can manage their program.  Back in the day, I was friends with a soccer coach who was a goofball type of guy.  His teams were successful and, quite honestly, I’d attributed his team’s success to players coming in with a high level of skill rather than his “coaching ‘em up”.  Since I’m a coaching nerd, I asked to watch one of his practices to see what he was doing.  It was wonderful!  His drills weren’t anything different than any other soccer coach would use, but his manner with the players was masterful.  His players hung on his every word and responded enthusiastically to what he said.  He ran an organized practice (just like I’m sure we all do), his players were quite skilled (like most of ours are), and I could tell he knew his stuff (as I’m sure most coaches do)…but there was something different about his practice.  His x-factor: He was connected with his team.  They spoke the same language and they had a high level of respect for him.

Every now and then, we run into someone who impresses us…though we just can’t put our finger on why.  That person just might have the x-factor.  I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it!

You Should Know About: ESPN W


I don’t remember how I stumbled upon ESPN’s site devoted to its female fans, but I’m sure happy I found it!  ESPN W is a mix of Women Talk Sports, ESPN, and a fitness magazine…a happy combination for female lovers of sport.  Check out my review of the website and then hop on over there and check it out for yourself!

The site is broken down into three main sections, each with its own particular flavor:

News & Opinion: Unlike a lot of sites devoted to the female sports fan, ESPN W actually talks about men’s sports…which I like.  I enjoy all sports, not just female athletics.  This is where you can find articles about what’s happening in the world of sports, whether it be the NBA playoffs or the Triple Crown races.  While all of the columnists are women, they vary in their slant.  Some may give straight forward analysis, while others may focus on a little talked about aspect of mainstream athletics…like how NFL moms handle draft day.

Features & Profiles: This section is more devoted to the female professional.  Sometimes it’s a roller derby team, other times it’ll be a high ranking female executive for a professional team, and still other times they focus on the mainstays of professional women’s athletics: track & field and gymnastics.

Training: This is personally my favorite section of the website.  It’s broken down into three sections: nutrition, workouts, and athletic events around the country that we can be a part of.  I’m pretty sure Nike and Gatorade are sponsors of the site, which I think are good things because there’s lots of research behind what they do.  Have you ever been to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s website?  It’s literally packed with info and they bring a lot of it over to ESPN W!

So go check it out and see what you think…I’m sure you’ll like it!

I’m on the computer too much, I’ll admit to that…there’s so much information out there and I want to soak it all in.  I enjoy reading about coaching and seeing what other folks are doing.  Over the next few days, I’ll highlight four websites that you may not have heard about, but deserve way more love! Coach & Athletic Director, Women Talk Sports, ESPN W, and Alliance of Women Coaches.

You Should Know About: Women Talk Sports



In part two of my “You Should Know About: series, I will highlight the Women Talk Sports website.  Here’s their mission statement:  With the goal of promoting and empowering female athleticism, is an online network that connects the best blogs relating to women’s sports. The site aims to raise the level of awareness of women in sport by providing comprehensive sport coverage, spotlighting outstanding achievements, and working with sporting associations on advocacy issues and empowering programs. I think it’s a great site and hopefully after you read through this post, you’ll think so too!

4 reasons that Women Talk Sports is a super cool website

  1. Lots of different sports are highlighted. I’m just going to list a few and you’ll just have to pop over and see what they’ve got for you.  Here we go: Swimming, Diving, Water Polo, Basketball, all sorts of water sports, various types of cycling, Equestrian, Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Hockey (Field & Ice), Lacrosse, motor sports, MMA, racing in all of its forms, volleyball, soccer, track & field…and more!
  2. They’ve got a lot of professional athletes as contributors. WTS is more of an aggregate of information than a creator, the site gathers a bunch (over 500!) of professional female athletes on one easy-to-find page.  You can search by name or you can search by sport…it’s pretty impressive.
  3. They understand that it’s about more than sports.  Athletics in general, and women’s athletics in particular, are more than just the sport…and WTS understands that.  They address tough topics like politics, racism, sexism, and LGBT issues, but they also talk about the lighter side of sports: fashion, connecting with fans, and fantasy sports.
  4. I write there. It’s the same stuff you read over here, but I figured in the interest of full disclosure, I needed to let you know.  There aren’t a lot of coaches on there…as a matter of fact, there’s just two of us.  Me and LSU’s assistant women’s basketball coach.  Check out his website, it’s very good.  It’s (obviously) pretty basketbally, but he writes about leadership quite a bit as well.

There aren’t many places you can find hundreds of folks talking about women’s athletics…and Women Talk Sports is one of those places.  Take a few moments to check out the site, I’m sure you’ll love it!

I’m on the computer too much, I’ll admit to that…there’s so much information out there and I want to soak it all in.  I enjoy reading about coaching and seeing what other folks are doing.  Over the next few days, I’ll highlight four websites that you may not have heard about, but deserve way more love! Coach & Athletic Director, Women Talk Sports, ESPN W, and Alliance of Women Coaches.

You Should Know About: Coach and Athletic Director


I started thinking about how much I love reading things online and about how I wonder if people love these sites as much as I do…so I decided to write a series about the various sites I like to visit.  I’m not getting paid to write these posts or anything, I just think the websites are informative.  Here’s my one disclaimer: I write for the Coach & Athletic Director website (Toot! Toot!  That was me tooting my own horn.), but I promise they didn’t ask me to write this!  Stick with me over the next few days as I talk about some of my favorite websites.

Fun facts about Coach & Athletic Director

  1. C & AD has been around forever. In its paper version, this magazine has been around for more than 80 years.  There’s a wealth of information to be had on the site whenever you pop in to check everything out.  Navigating on the first page, you’ll see my blog featured along with two other blogs written by their editors.  Below that, you’ll see features from the current issue of the magazine…everything from sports psychology to technical articles about soccer.
  2. It’s Big 3 focused. By that, I mean football, basketball, and baseball.  But who says that a volleyball or soccer coach can’t learn from other sports?  Not me!  For instance, the beginning of a baseball pitcher’s motion is similar to an attacker in volleyball.  So when I saw this article talking about how to put together a pitcher’s warmup routine, I was interested.  Does everything translate?  Nope.  Will I use some of it?  Sure will!  There are lots of articles about head coaches and their keys to success on there as well…definitely something we can all learn from.
  3. Good strength & conditioning articles. If I weren’t a volleyball coach, I’d love to be a S & C coach…I love all things lifting, conditioning, and nutrition!  If you don’t have your own strength and conditioning coach at your school, it’s definitely worth a look.  They talk about everything from training athletes that are injured to working with female athletes.  Good stuff…you should check it out!

I believe we should constantly try to get more knowledge and I don’t believe we’ve always got to attend a conference or seminar to acquire it.  Check out this site and see if it’s got anything good for you…I’ll bet it does!

I’m on the computer too much, I’ll admit to that…there’s so much information out there and I want to soak it all in.  I enjoy reading about coaching and seeing what other folks are doing.  Over the next few days, I’ll highlight four websites that you may not have heard about, but deserve way more love!  Coach & Athletic Director, Women Talk Sports, ESPN W, and Alliance of Women Coaches.

6 Commitments of Quality Coaches


I found a nice article over at Basketball Insights that talked about NBA coach Gregg Popovich’s leadership skills.  Since he’s been so successful, I thought I’d share it with you and put my spin on things.

6 ways to show your commitment to your team

1.      Understand what motivates your players. In practices and in games, we’ve got to know how to get our teams going.  I often tell my teams that games aren’t the time for teaching…go play and we’ll fix it later.  The same goes for us as coaches.  We’ve got to remember to use practice time to figure out how each player is motivated to learn, how they’re motivated to push themselves, and how they’re motivated to excel.  In the same manner, we can use scrimmages to see how they’re motivated in stressful competitive situations.

2.      Do what it takes to be a champion. Winning cultures win. I’m sure you’ve played teams that your team was better than…but that other team had crazy swagger.  They expected to win more than your team hoped to win.  Before we can create a culture of winning, I believe we’ve got to create a culture of success.  You all know by now how deep my love of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success goes, he was awesome.  He was also a champion.

3.      Be a learning leader. Isn’t the coaching cliché that the best coaches steal from the best coaches?  With so many coaches out there, I can’t think of a reason that we can’t all find someone to learn from!  I believe in being a coaching nerd and learning from as many folks as I can, whether it’s another coach or a business leader.

4.      Provide vision for your program. What is important to you?  What is your coaching philosophy? How do you want your team to be perceived?  All of those things go into creating a vision for your program.  Then you go out and get it.  Without knowing what you want, how will you know what players to recruit?  Beyond that, how will your players know when they’re successful?

5.      Put the team first. Everything we do has to be about the team.  Whether it’s being incredibly prepared for every drill, practice, and game…or making sure you’re on the same page with your assistants.  All of that puts the team first.  Add to that all of the intangibles that we teach our athletes, they’ll appreciate that it’s “we before me” and model that behavior.

6.      Have fun. Hopefully you love your sport.  Hopefully you love going to practice.  Hopefully you love coaching.  Hopefully you love your athletes (even when they’re driving you crazy).  Hopefully you get along with your coworkers.  Hopefully you’ve got rockstar assistants.  If you’ve got all of that, then you’re having fun.

Leading, coaching…it’s not easy, but it’s the best job ever!  We can learn from those folks who’ve not only been successful, but who’ve been continuously successful over a long period of time.

Coaches Clinic In A Box—Bringing Coach Dawn To Your Group


I came up with the idea of a coaches “traveling clinic” after numerous amazing interactions with folks who read this blog from all over the globe. The clinic is an opportunity to meet face to face and dig deeper into what it means to coach and how to excel, achieve, and win at a consistent level.

I’ve written before about steps that successful coaches take and getting better is one of those steps.  Anytime we can get together and talk about how to make our teams better…then we’re getting better.

I’d love for you to shoot me an email at coachdawn[at]hotmail[dot]com to set up a clinic wherever you are…with topics you choose, but here’s an example:

Sample clinic agenda
8:30 – 9 am…Registration
9 – 9:30 am…Introduction
9:30 – 11 am…The Intangibles: Team Chemistry, Goal Setting, & Leadership, Oh My!
11 am – 12:15 pm…Incorporating John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success into your coaching philosophy
12:15 – 12:30 pm…Break
12:30 – 1:30 pm…Working lunch: Q & A with coaches
1:30 – 3 pm…Why personality testing can increase the competitiveness of your team
3 – 3:30 pm…Closing

Since I’m coming to you, your group won’t have to incur the expense of traveling to lovely Wisconsin to hear me speak…I’ll be wherever you are with a clinic tailored to your needs.  Whether you’re the director of a club, an athletic department, or the head of a coaching association…this traveling clinic will be great for your group!  Get in touch with me so that you can get on my calendar before the open slots fill up.