Coaching is difficult. During the course of every day, some situation is sure to arise that tests our training plan, our tactical concept, our patience, or even our personal sense of right and wrong. On a bad day, it could be all of these. Each time one of these situations occurs we track back to our philosophy, our mentors, our research and our experience to learn how we should deal with it, all the time knowing that our ultimate responsibility is to the team and our egos must be appropriately subjugated.
It doesn’t seem to matter how much we prepare, how diligent we are and how much passion we have for our work, at some point, sooner rather than later, we will be in a position where we must compromise. And when we compromise it is easy to feel like a bad coach. I have read ‘Sacred Hoops’. And ‘The Score Takes Care Of Itself’. And ‘They Call Me Coach’. Those coaching legends** never had to compromise. They were wise and smart and firm and disciplined, and because of that they always had success and never had to compromise. More than once I have sat reading one of those texts at the end of a tough day and despaired that I could be anywhere near as good I want to be.
On those days it is easy to lose perspective, both of our work and the work of others. We remember of ourselves only the (too many to count) times that we have been forced to compromise and of our mentors and idols only their unfailing wisdom and success. Of course reality is never, ever how we imagine it is especially our perception of others (and especially the ‘truth’ passed down in their own autobiographies). Perhaps in moments of stress we should remember the failures of others to remind ourselves that coaching is an inexact science and an imperfect art. So here is a list of some of my favourite failures, compromises and misconceptions, all of them big ones, to make you feel good about yourself.
- Alex Ferguson (recounted in a Pep Guardiola biography) after 25 years at Manchester United made a mistake in organising the accommodation for the Champions League final that cost his team the match, or at least left them far from their best condition.
- Pep Guardiola (from a different biography) allowed his players to talk him into compromising his tactical beliefs for a big match, and lost.
- John Wooden (from his biography) did not begin his famous winning streak until his 16th!! season at UCLA. And his famously close relationships with his ex players did not begin until long after they finished playing.
- Bill Walsh (from his biography) despite being credited as a genius and with changing the game, had many more only just above average seasons as dominant ones, often barely making the playoffs. His style of play become the dominant style of play, but it did not dominate others during his career.
- Doug Beal (from his book Spike!) compromised his rules many times for one player, who ultimately quit the team anyway. The team still won the Olympic gold medal.
- The unnamed coach, whose best player decided they did not like the shirt the team was supposed to wear that day, who then individually went to all other rooms to inform the team they would wear a different shirt that day. The team finished the season as champions.