Your Circle of Trust: Don't Be the Captain of a Ship of Fools

TAGS: Lou Holtz, sport coaching job, Circle of Trust, life philosophy, coaching philosophy, hiring process, Coach G, strength coach

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There are certain times in your life that you remember forever. Things that happen in these moments, for some reason, get burned into your memory and never leave. It can be good or bad, but whatever was done in that moment changes your life forever. Seeing your future wife walk down the aisle on your wedding day, the birth of your children, maybe a motivational quote you heard in a movie that has kept you going in hard times — no matter what it is, these things shape your mind. They make you think the way you think and live the way you choose to live.

Two of these moments in my life shaped my coaching and life philosophy. The first one was from my strength coach Ken Fantano. I was 17 years old at the time and had just gotten done with a workout at his gym. It was a tough session, and I really had to dig deep to get through it. If you paid attention to detail and busted your ass every now and then, you would get the ultimate reward from Ken: a free Gatorade. It was like a gold medal. He has trained hundreds of powerlifters and big benchers all over the country. If he noticed something you did that he thought deserved merit, out came the Citrus Cooler Gatorade (my favorite flavor to this day; it was the only flavor he stocked). I probably only got three in all my time with him, but this particular time was different. He handed it to me and told me to come outside.


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We sat on some milk crates on the sidewalk and he told me these words I will never forget. He said, “Mick, remember one thing: life is black and white. The more you can live your life with less grey in it, the easier it will be. People are either for you or against you. There is no in-between. They cannot be with you 90% of the time and against you 10% of the time. It’s all or nothing.” He then walked back inside and I left pondering what he had just told me — and I found it was true. Following that day, I did everything I could to clean the gray out of my life. It helped me make clear decisions and helped me build a solid group of people that I would go through the ringer with. It helped me find my wife of 20 years, helped me get through and graduate from college, and helped me get to work and find jobs.

Shipwreck

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The only bullshit and drama I have had in my life is when I broke that rule — when I did what would look good to the outside, or worried what people I didn’t even know or ever would know thought. These are decisions like hiring the wrong person, putting someone in a position that they are not qualified for, or doing someone a favor you shouldn't do. You can do all of these things to please someone, but in reality, it takes away from the person you really are, and your program will suffer for it.

Let's use a few examples. If a coach has someone that they want to have “work” with you in the weight room, you check their qualifications and know they are just waiting for a sport coaching job. You have other people that want to be a strength coach, but you feel like you have to accept the coach's recommendation. So you let him in the weight room and he spends his time with that coach in meetings, not engaged with your athletes. In the end, you wind up looking like the fool. Or if you work in a smaller school and have been using some interns from the physical education department, a professor begs you to take this one kid as a favor, and you meet with them and think to yourself that there's no way in hell. But you are trying to keep goodwill with the department so you give him a chance. Not only does he suck and have an awful work ethic, but also the athletes he comes in contact with have zero respect for him. They feel bad for themselves because they know they can’t keep up, so they do the next best thing and go and bitch and cry to the professors about how “those guys do things down there”, which leads to meetings and more wasting of your time, only to have the kid drop out after all the distraction. Sound familiar? I bet it does. It happens everywhere, all the time. Again, you are left looking like a fool. If you want something done right, in some cases where you can’t trust anyone, do it yourself. I would rather do it myself than be left like the village idiot over something I had control over but for one reason or another didn't exercise.

This is going to bring us to the next spotlight moment. For some research I am doing on how to help us improve this profession I have been talking to athletes — especially those who are done playing sports in college. What I got for the most common answer may surprise you, and it takes me back to 2003. We were at a staff dinner and I was talking with Lou Holtz, the legendary football coach and motivational speaker. I built up the courage to ask him a question. I asked him his secret to success. He smiled and said, “That’s easy: give people what they want. If they want to be coached like an NFL player, then coach them like they are an NFL player. If they want to advance in a management position, give them all the opportunities to do so. You can’t go wrong treating people like that.”

I could not agree more. All the great coaches and business people I have come across have all had that trait — all of them, across the board, in any profession. Give people a chance to succeed. The answer I got from the college athletes is that they wanted a person who knew what they were doing and cared about them. Most of them said they hated it when they would go to a different coaching staff (weight room or sport) and that person did not really know what they were doing, didn’t know them, or were indifferent just because they did not come in contact with that particular athlete on a daily basis.

So take advice from someone who has already made a lot of these mistakes: Follow your gut and don’t let anyone into your circle of trust that should not be there. Don’t look the fool. If you've got to do it all yourself for a while, embrace it and the fact that you will be viewed as a hard worker who cares, not the captain of the ship of fools.

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