Learning from NFL Coaches

Coaching in the NFL and coaching youth basketball differ in innumerable ways. However, a youth coach can learn from players’ comments about the best coaches in the NFL.

Sporting News recently rated the NFL coaches and asked a player to comment on his coach and his position in the rankings. What types of characteristics and qualities do NFL players like about their coaches and associate with their coach’s success?

  • Tom Brady about Bill Belichick: “In terms of his work ethic and his preparation, he’s as diligent as he’s ever been.”
  • Drew Brees about Sean Peyton: “I would say, more than anything, the way that Sean Payton is able to complement and combine that very disciplined, fair but stern attitude, with, ‘Hey, we’re going to have fun, and we’re going to enjoy what we do,’ (is what makes him a great coach).”
  • Vincent Fuller about Jeff Fisher: “He is the longest-tenured coach, so he has the respect there. And he takes care of his players.
  • London Fletcher on Mike Shanahan: “He’s a proven winner. His approach to the game, the way he handles this team, is great. … He treats us like men .”
  • James Farrior on Mike Tomlin: “His first year, he was a little hard on us, but he learned from that and the next year he changed a couple things and we were very successful. ”
  • Jim Leonard on Rex Ryan: “Look at the X’s and O’s. He’s as good a coach as there is in this league.”

A few interesting points:

First, as the list continued, comments moved further from personality traits or qualities and concentrated more on wins as evidence of one’s coaching ability. This easily could say more about the player than the coach, but the players speaking about the coaches at the top of the list were more effusive with their praise of the coach’s process, not just their results.

Second, the bolded adjectives give an idea of the traits and qualities one needs to be successful as a coach at any level:

  • work ethic
  • preparation
  • diligence
  • diciplined
  • fair
  • stern
  • fun environment
  • enjoy what we do
  • respect
  • takes care of players
  • treats us like men
  • changed approach (flexibility)
  • X’s and O’s (knowledge)

This is not an exhaustive list for successful coaching. However, it hits several key points:

  1. Successful coaches show players respect and earn their players’ trust.
  2. Successful coaches are prepared and demonstrate the same work ethic toward their craft as they expect of their players.
  3. Successful coaches are fair toward all players, though they do not necessarily treat all players the same.
  4. Successful coaches create an environment where players want to be there, and they enjoy the hard work.
  5. Successful coaches know the game.
  6. Successful coaches are not afraid to admit mistakes and make changes when necessary.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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