Wisdom from Sports Coaches You May Not Have Heard

We revere sports coaches. Posters and coffee cups are festooned with their wisdom and insight. We love the legend of the locker room speech that inspired a team to victory. We love the short, pithy quote. 

Successful coaches have more to say than short, pithy bits of common sense wisdom. Here are a few of my favorite longer quotes. They’re all from famous sports coaches. They’re usable by business leaders, like you. I bet at least one will be new to you. 

Bear Bryant on What Team Members Want from You

Business is a team sport. If you’re the leader, you must know what your team members expect from you. Here’s Bear Bryant’s answer:

“Winning team members need to know five things:

  1. Tell me what you expect from me.
  2. Give me an opportunity to perform.
  3. Let me know how I'm getting along.
  4. Give me guidance where I need it.
  5. Reward me according to my contribution."

Pat Summitt on Why Feedback is Important

Pat Summitt knew a thing or two about winning. By the time she retired, she’d racked up 1098 wins. She may never have called feedback “the breakfast of champions,” but she did say this:

“In the absence of feedback, people will fill in the blanks with a negative. They will assume you don’t care about them or don’t like them.”

John Wooden’s Definition of Leadership

John Wooden may be the most quoted sports coach there is. There are enough books by and about him to make up a small library. Here are his thoughts on what leadership should be:

"Ultimately, I believe that’s what leadership is all about: helping others to achieve their own greatness by helping the organization to succeed." 

Bill Walsh on How to Win 

Bill Walsh coached winning teams at the college and professional levels. He knew that winning is a moving target. Here are his thoughts what it takes to win and keep winning:

"Even when you have an organization brimming with talent, victory is not always under your control. There is no guarantee, no ultimate formula for success. It all comes down to intelligently and relentlessly seeking solutions that will increase your chance of prevailing. When you do that, the score will take care of itself."

Alex Ferguson on Strategy

Many people consider Alex Ferguson to be one of the greatest managers in the history of professional soccer. What he’s got to say about game strategy is also good advice business leaders:

"Games–like life–are all about waiting for chances and then pouncing on them."

Dabo Swinney on Living a Successful Life

Clemson University football coach, Dabo Swinney, may be the most quotable coach ever. Who else could whip out the phrase B.Y.O.G. for “Bring Your Own Guts” in a postgame interview in the pouring rain? But there’s a more serious side to Dabo, and it was on display when his championship team visited the White House.

He named winning the National Championship and visiting the White House as two special moments. He pointed to other special moments in life, like becoming a parent or buying a house. They’re great, but they’re not the whole story. 

"Life is not about those (special) moments. Life is truly about how we live in between these moments. Doing the little things in a great way."

That’s a good place to finish. Keep those coffee cups and inspirational posters. Remember those coaches’ catchphrases. Look beyond those quick hits to longer bits of leadership advice.

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