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What Makes a Coach a “Players'” Coach?

Football coach talking to his players in a huddle.

All through my career I have met, and worked with different coaches. Some coaches are new school, some are old school, and some are from a school I have never been a part of. No matter what school you are from, or what school you represent, I have always heard the term “players’ coach.”

What is a Players’ Coach?

I was never really able to grasp the term “players’ coach” because I did not understand what it meant. I have spoken to coaches all over the world and some of them hate titles, and completely despise the term “players’ coach.” That is fine, some coaches will never change, won’t change, or could care less about categorizing themselves. I am not one of those coaches. I truly believe in the term “players’ coach” and consider myself 100% authentic when it comes to the term, and I will utilize the term for the rest of my life.

In order to be a players’ coach you have to meet a few stipulations. First, if you have never played the game of football, unfortunately, you cannot be a “players’ coach.” I mean no disrespect to any coaches who have learned the game without ever playing, my hat goes off to you, but you can never be a players’ coach.

An authentic “players’ coach,” has been on the field and can diagnose situations from what he sees on the field, and can incorporate it with his experience. For example, if you have never been the crack in a crack back block, or have been “ear holed” on Special Teams by gazing at the punt floating in the air, you will never really know what it feels like. I compare it to, very politely and with all due respect, to a woman giving birth….of course she can describe it to you, but you will never understand the complexity of emotions that occurs, and how to control them. You know exactly what I mean if you have ever heard someone tell their wife “I completely understand how it feels to have a child!” Wow…you better scurry away quick because any woman in the room will address your statement with deadly precision.

With that being said, understanding what a player goes through, and how his body changes…or recuperates from injuries, is different, but the same, for all players. Have you ever broken your ribs and had to tape them up to finish the game? Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you so bad that you believed the world was coming to an end? Or snapped your ankle in 9 different places but finished the game because your coach’s medical advice (with no Medical degree) was that it was just a “bad sprain!?” Some coaches are able to relate but do not know what it feels like…and can not even imagine the mental state their player can be in.

Maybe you aren’t a “players’ coach.” Just as easy as noticing if you have “players’ coach” attributes you can also eliminate yourself if you have used terms like “they are not getting water, they don’t deserve it.” If you say things like that…. this means you have never thirsted for water in 102 degree weather on the second part of a “two a day” deep in the heart of the South (my city New Orleans, LA). Actually, I wont even work, or share the field, with a coach that does not hydrate his team for discipline reasons. The fact that you jeopardize the health of a player, and can not understand how refreshing a drink of water is….eliminates you from ever being a “players’ coach.”

A Players’ Coach Thinks As a Player

Remember a players’ coach thinks as a player, but acts as a coach. A “players’ coach” is able to take into consideration everything he uses in his formula to call plays, schemes, and makes decisions…while keeping in mind the players thought process and emotions. If you have ever scolded your player verbally and tore him down completely, then said “now go out there and give me 100%”…you unfortunately are not a players’ coach. If you force your scheme onto your players and do not realize where your talent lies (i.e WR’s with poor hands, but you run the spread, and throw on every down)…nope, not a players’ coach.

I am not saying that you cannot be successful in the game of football if you are not a “players’ coach,” I am just saying you have to meet certain criteria to call yourself one.

Of course, I know coaches who despise the term “players’ coach.” They think that their ideas are better than everyone else’s. In my experience this is normally the same coach who runs his old highs school’s Wing T offense, from 1937, which won two state championships, and chews tobacco on the field, simply because he can. C’mon man, are you serious? Understand your players, coaching is communication. If you hate their music, cannot stand their style or don’t want them to walk with swagger….you sir, are not a players’ coach.

Then, there is the coach who knows everything. If you have ever met this coach my suggestion is that you turn and run as fast as humanly possible. This type of coach does not adapt to the times, or take suggestions about his team. Yes, there have been coaches who are successful using this platform, but they are a small portion of the coaching brotherhood. Learning from a man who is not a student himself, is difficult, and he will never lower himself to see his player’s side of the story.

Final Thoughts

We play to win the game, but coach because we love the relationships with our players. If you are not a relationship builder, then you are not building trust. Without the trust of your players, you will never garner their respect. Without love and respect, your players may perform, but out of fear (i.e fear or repercussions, or 1000 yards in gassers). If you coach using the fear tactic, you will never truly tap into your players skill, heart, or mind. If you are driving a car, and you have no tires on it, it will still take you up the road…but it will be bumpy, and you won’t go far.

Love your players, as you love yourself, and success will come your way. Treat your players like property, with no love, and you will succumb to defeat, in one way, or another. Be the coach you always wanted.

Joshua Dirman

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