The Human Element

TAGS: the human element, college program, winning, Donald Day, college athletics, team, strength and conditioning coach

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This thing called college athletics is a crazy beast. In a way, this profession is its very own little world. I cannot tell you much that’s going on in the world outside of campus. I am so bogged down most of the time that I rarely have a chance to catch up with ESPN to find out what’s going on in the world of professional sports, and 90% of the information I acquire on the outside world is through the New York Times, Twitter, or something posted on Facebook. There’s so much that goes into running a successful college program that it sometimes seems more like a factory than a team. There are daily tasks like making sure things have been ordered and shipped, or items have been sent out for purchasing. There are meetings that need attending. There are facility managers that need to be updated and advised. The list goes on and on. Sometimes I overlook the most important part of the equation to making a program successful: the human element.


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At the end of the day, college athletics is a giant machine, but the humans run the machine. And just like in any other part of life, résumés do not overpower competence, commitment, and character. Everyone says experience is key and that building up your résumé will help you get a job, which is in part true, but people don’t talk about what will help you keep that job. Great résumés don’t exactly win games or build up a formidable athletics department. What does is having employees with great character, who are highly competent at their jobs with an unwavering commitment to the program. Every day we see coaches who have championships under their belts but dabble in shady business dealings that get them fired. These are often coaches with long résumés who are okay with being just satisfactory. Experience does not matter. Résumés do not matter. It’s what’s between the lines that are going to keep you afloat.

So how does this tie into what we do on a daily basis and taking care of our athletes? Well, surrounding them with the best possible people is number one. You should also remember that they are all athletes; in whatever division you coach, you are coaching the same level athlete as everyone else in your division, whether that be Division IA, II, III, NAIA or I-AA. The difference is what kind of person are you sending out onto that field, into the classroom, or into the workplace.

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Is that athlete someone who is going to go the extra mile in the film room, on the field, or in the classroom to be the best version of themselves? Or is that an athlete going to do the bare minimum just to get by in life, which is exactly what you've let them do on the field? If you let them, this is exactly what some will do — just get by. Have you emphasized the importance of TEAM and working for your brothers or sisters? Or have you just focused on winning? The mentality that it doesn't matter if the athlete skips class and workouts as long as you can win with him will get you beat, get you fired, and leave you embarrassed.

Let's take a step back from the big picture to see the small day-to-day scale of the human element in college athletics. How you talk to your athletes is just as important as what you talk to your athletes about. There was a time when I first started interning that I used to boss athletes around rather than trying to actually coach them. When they didn’t do what I wanted, I would try to puff up my chest and bark orders. This rarely worked. And even when it did, I didn’t get the effort I expected out of it.


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I feel like a lot of coaches make this same mistake that I used to. We try to boss athletes around instead of coaching and talking to them. A lot of us forget that they are people who are going through real life stuff every single day, day in and day out. Life happens to them just like it happens to us. When we were 18 or even 22, we were not all perfectly able to drown out the noise and focus. There were days when we just needed a coach to listen to us, sit us down, and talk with us about things that were happening. Sometimes we didn’t have all the answers and just needed someone to help us out. Sometimes life won, which it will do every once in a while. We weren’t all born with unwavering mental fortitude; some of us were taught how to be that way. So why do we expect our athletes to have the mentality of a T-2 Terminator at all times?

I’ll tell you why: It’s because sometimes we forget they are just humans. They have good days and they have bad days. Coaching is about teaching, and we have to teach them to deal with their bad days the same way we teach them to shed a blocker or play a 2-3 zone in basketball. We forget that behavior is learned. So in order to change unwanted behaviors, we need to instill good ones. We need to teach them how to handle stressful or non-ideal situations. We can’t just discipline and bark and demand. We are coaches and we coach humans, not just athletes. In everything you do, you must never forget the human element that makes every one of us tick.

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