The best coaching is sublime coaching


UCLA Bruins.jpg

I came of age in the ’70s during a time of nuclear proliferation, the tail-end of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, hyper-inflation that hit 20%, high unemployment in the double-digits, Soap (the TV show), drug culture, Three Mile Island, Johnny Rotten, and Watergate. These were just a few of the anxieties of my parents’ generation but they were nothing but noise to my friends and I. What we cared about were girls and sports.

All that other stuff, we optimistically figured, would get sorted out by people in some distant place and since girls were mysteriously beyond our abilities to comprehend or approach we latched on to sports as something to obsess about. It’s why we became such experts at analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of various teams and leagues, both professional and college in both the US and in Canada, and why we dissected games on the following day. (Thankfully, for our future partners in life, most of us eventually grew up and developed more balanced pursuits) How else could we spend our time back then? Yes, school was important to us and we worked at it sufficiently well to smoothly sail through. But school was simply a vehicle that provided a way to put into action the fantasies of our minds, fantasies that our idols of the sports world ignited there. Being on our school’s sports teams was our way of conjoining ourselves with the larger world. And, although we didn’t realize or appreciate it at the time, we benefited from good coaching. We just did what they said and tried to perform to their expectations. What we lived for though was the excitement of the games, the crowds, the noise, the pressure. It wasn’t until later, after college, that I really understood that the coach is the most critical element of the team.

Here’s what I learned from a couple of the coaches I had back then.


  • conducted all their most important work in the days before the game, considering ways to leverage the individual strengths of each player by designing or choosing plays to accentuate during the game
  • forced us to practice, and practice, and get fitter, and fitter, and fitter….each and every (bloody) week. They say a near death experience makes you appreciate life and nothing in my life has brought me closer to that than running agility drills for 60 minutes.
  • supported the team during the game but never sought the spotlight for themselves. They stayed on the sidelines and never showed up the refs. If they had a beef they would, with composure, trot over and express their opinion. By preserving the dignity of the officials they played a long game that worked out better in the end.
  • protected the team by looking ahead at the schedule and planning a strategy for getting over and around obstacles. They were students of the game and students of strategy. They knew their players and they wanted to know the opposing ones as well.
  • screamed and yelled in the privacy of the dressing room but never called out any team member in public. Déclassé and disrespectful, otherwise.
  • always took the time to congratulate meaningful performance that made a positive difference to the outcome of the game. In the dressing room, in front of the team, called out the person by name, described what they did well, and why the performance mattered.
  • always privately consoled someone suffering from anguish about some performance glitch that had an equal but negative effect (I once missed two free throws with no time left in the championship game of a basketball tournament, a game in which we were down by one…. arghh, it still hurts to replay it in my mind)

Since I joined the business world I’ve had exactly one boss who reminds me of those coaches of my youth. One boss out of countless bosses spread over a 36 year career. Don’t you think that as business leaders we should all aspire to be the kind of leader who reminds our team members of the best coach they’ve ever had? Maybe though the secret to good coaching is that it probably isn’t found in a book. More likely it’s found in a person’s character and inner fortitude.

I’ll close by saying this. He wasn’t my coach but John Wooden made a large imprint on me by superbly and sublimely coaching the UCLA Bruins basketball team in the early 70s. His players (Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, Marcus Johnson) inspired and awed me but it was Wooden’s style, intelligence, respectfulness, and grace that impressed me most of all.

About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

2 Responses to The best coaching is sublime coaching

  1. Greg Dufour says:

    Great post Peter! Reminds me of the “good days!”

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