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Beyond the X's and O's: Leadership Secrets of the World's Most Successful Coaches

Posted by Austin Overmann on Feb 8, 2016 in Education, Events 0 Comments

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Throughout the next few weeks, NSCAA.com will be posting recaps and videos gathered from the 2016 NSCAA Convention. The following is a session recap from one session held during the week.


John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project returned to the NSCAA Convention in 2016 to discuss “Beyond the X’s and O’s: Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful Coaches” as an educational session.  Changing the Game Project is an effort which strives to provide parents and coaches with the information and resources necessary to make sports a healthy, positive, and rewarding experience for their children.

O’Sullivan outlines five qualities ingrained in the minds of successful coaches throughout the world. The first of five qualities is knowing who you are as a coach. Who you are and what you do are viewed as separate entities, similar to the appearance of an iceberg. The X’s and O’s (what others can see) are the tip of the iceberg above water, while your personality and character is hidden beneath.

It’s also important to know your athletes, and what they want from you as their coach. Many students of the game want a coach who respects and encourages their players. Coaches need to be a positive role model for their athletes by demonstrating their knowledge for the game, and providing a safety net for their players. O’Sullivan stresses that coaches should provide a safe environment for their athletes to fail.

By knowing your athletes it’s possible to coach on a “slanty line,” creating opportunities for kids to choose their difficulty. The “slanty line” technique allows a chance for athletes of all levels to succeed and achieve personal goals during practices and drills. This way, each player is challenged during practice.

Within knowledge of the players you’re coaching is understanding the mindset of your players. Do they have a fixed or growth mindset? Originally developed by Carol Dweck of Stanford University, the idea of the growth mindset encourages players to continue their development and to believe in their improvement as an athlete rather than accepting an alleged lack of skill. A fixed mindset relates to a player who believes they’ve already reached their limit and won’t improve.

The most important part of any coach’s leadership is the values-based culture they instill in their club. Sometimes players must be reminded they aren’t bigger than the game itself. This can be done by creating a foundation of values which includes trust, ability, believability, dependability, and connectedness.

Coaches must then reward team values by encouraging athletes to live them. Rather than announcing a team MVP at the conclusion of the season, announce how the team developed their values and recognize players who held up to their end of the bargain both on and off the pitch. As a team did you accomplish your pre-season goals?

These values must be enforced upon the parents so that players, coaches, and parents can be on the same page. It’s important to set up pre-season meetings with parents to facilitate consistent communication during the season. By doing this coaches can feed positive info to parents throughout the season. For parents, it’s important to know the philosophy, goals, and rules of the club.

O’Sullivan encourages parents and coaches to continue learning about their children and athletes by reading his book titled Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids. His book currently ranks #1 on Amazon under the Children’s Sports Coaching genre.

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