Don Meyer

The final installment of this three-part series on professional development for coaches pertains to how coaches can grow on their own, or intrapersonally. After providing areas for growth with online resources (Part One: and examples of how coaches can grow interpersonally (Part Two:, I will explore ways that coaches can develop on their own time. Any good educator uses time to reflect on their craft and that is especially true in coaching.

• Find the Top “Coaches’ Coaches” In Your Sport – If you’re an experienced coach you know what I’m talking about. We all want to learn from coaches who coach at higher levels. But let’s face it, some coaches are better at teaching than others. If you have a coach in your sport that is a better “coach of other coaches” than Don Meyer is for basketball then I want to know about him or her. Don Meyer was a career NAIA/NCAA Division 2 coach but has done more for developing other coaches than any other coach. He was the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach until Mike Krzyzewski broke the record. He has run multiple coaches’ clinics, produced coaching videos, and is still a student of the game himself. Read his incredible story in Buster Olney’s ¬How Lucky Can You Be and you’ll understand what a “coach’s coach” is. Coach Meyer has maintained a true commitment to growing the profession throughout his life.

• Observation – A coach can learn so many of the complexities of his game by observing it frequently. Early in my career I would watch the NCAA Tournament games a little differently than most people. Rather than dissecting my tournament picks (they weren’t any good any way), I would take a pad of paper and as I saw a play that I liked, I would diagram it and file it away for the following season. Everyone has their own organization systems, but I have put together a large binder with my own “encyclopedia” of various offensive sets, actions, and out-of-bounds plays simply by watching games.

• Experience – The number-one way for someone to develop professionally in coaching is to go through the experience of a season. The practice planning, game management, and adjustments that you must make with your team on a weekly, even daily basis, are new each year. I was once told that basketball is a game of “infinite situations.” That is probably true of many other sports, as well. The experience of coaching provides you with more of these situations. Learning by doing is so valuable. There will continue to be more situations and strategies to learn.

• Scouting – Scouting works for your development much like the experience of coaching through a season. Depending on your level of coaching, you get so engrained into knowing your opponent that you can’t help but learn more about the game. I loved learning by watching my opponents. They all did something well. In some cases you may be able to add some aspect of their “X’s and O’s” to incorporate into your own system. You may also be able to tweak something you do similar to your opponents in order to make your own coaching better. When I was a head coach one of our biggest rivals had an outstanding transition offense that put a lot of pressure on our early defense. I studied their transition a lot in scouting them. The way their players spread the floor and passed the ball quickly in their secondary break was something I liked and I will utilize when I coach again.

With all of the available resources for coaches to develop now, no two coaches should have the same professional development plan. Each coach should utilize his or her own learning styles and interests to match their coaching philosophies in order to develop their plan. What is important is for you, as a coach, to continually seek out these resources to find ways to continually develop. Assess your areas of weakness and seek out people and resources you know that could help you in those areas. When you find those people it only adds to the enjoyment of the coaching profession.

Question: In what area(s) have you learned the most through the experience of coaching?



Tom Izzo

This week I continue to explore avenues where coaches can develop their careers. Here are four avenues in which coaches can grow interpersonally:

• Establish a Coaching Mentor – Being around a successful head coach, as well as experienced assistants, are extremely beneficial to coaches at all stages of their careers. Unfortunately, not all coaches are great mentors but a young coach can try to put himself in a situation where his boss is a great mentor. When seeking that first, and successive, assistant coaching jobs young coaches should look for a head coach who makes a commitment to developing his staff and not just his players. Tom Izzo is a great example of a coach who commits to developing his assistants. Several of Izzo’s former assistants are now head coaches.

• Clinics – You rarely have the opportunity to go to one place where many coaches will be available to talk about some aspect of your sport. If you have an opportunity to attend a clinic, I highly suggest it. One of my first clinics was a Nike Coaches’ Clinic in Pittsburgh. There were great coaches, mostly from the college level, and I learned a ton that helped influence me as a young coach. Many college programs, national and local coaches’ associations, and even some corporate organizations (like Nike) run coaching clinics.

• Coaches’ Roundtables – These are probably less common than other development strategies but can be worthwhile. It may be a good idea to invite some of your coaching friends from different levels of competition to just sit down and toss around different ideas. Invite coaches with a diverse coaching background. If you’re a basketball coach who plays all man-to-man defense, invite coaches who play mostly zone. If you’re a football coach who uses a pro-style offensive attack, invite coaches who run a spread formation.

• Books – An oldie, but goody. I prefer reading coaching books that are about coaching philosophy. Growing up in Indiana, I have some great, older Bob Knight stuff. There are some great Dean Smith books. And, of course, there is more great stuff from John Wooden than anyone. I like to not only read about successful coaches and coaching strategies in books, but other successful leaders. John Maxwell is my favorite leadership author. He is fantastic. He ties in a lot of stories from sports into his wide array of leadership books. Don’t hesitate to read about successful coaches in other sports, as well. I have learned more about motivation from Lou Holtz than I have anyone.

Question: How do you use other people or sources to develop your coaching skills?



“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

If you’re a coach, chances are you have heard that statement before. It’s true! I’ve said before that successful coaches have successful relationships with their athletes. A coach must be able to motivate their athletes and motivation begins with the athlete knowing that you care about them as both an athlete and a person.

VCU Men’s Basketball Associate Head Coach Mike Rhoades has stated that Head Coach Shaka Smart’s greatest strength is the amount of time he spends with their players. North Carolina’s 21-time National Championship Women’s Soccer Coach Anson Dorrence takes time each season to write a letter to each of his seniors. There are countless other examples of coaches who take time to ensure their athletes know that they care.

Anson_Dorrance 2

While certainly not a thorough list, these are five actions of coaches who care about their athletes.

1. Caring coaches prepare to be successful. – Whether it’s scouting opponents, preparing for practice, or coordinating an off-season workout plan, caring coaches mindfully prepare to put their athletes in the best situation to be competitive.

2. Caring coaches show 360-degrees of care. – Caring coaches not only prepare their athletes competitively, but they also support and guide their athletes through their academic pursuits and their personal lives.

3. Caring coaches make daily communication with their athletes. – During a season a coach should reach out to each of his athletes in some, at least small, way. At the very least a coach should take a walk through pre-practice warm-ups and ask about his day, ask about a test he may have taken, or ask how his family is doing. A little communication goes a long way.

4. Caring coaches never demean. – Coaches should demand high expectations from their athletes but they should never condemn the person.

5. Caring coaches leave conflict on the field/court/track. – There will certainly be times, whether in practice or during competition, when you feel individuals may not be performing at the level you expect. A caring coach is able to separate the performance of his athletes from the individual persons.

Question: What are some other ways that coaches can show they care about their athletes?



Seth Godin has recently become one of my favorite writers. An international best-selling author, Godin focuses a lot of his writing about marketing. He is the most influential business blogger in the world (He has almost 300,000 Twitter followers.). I recently read one of his books that was published in 2011 titled Linchpin.


In Godin’s view the “linchpin” is the person in an organization (or someone who is starting their own venture) who loves their work, pours themselves into it, and turns that work into art. Godin calls “linchpins” indispensable. They produce work that is not on their job description but nevertheless they would be difficult to replace. As I was reading the book I couldn’t help but think of how “linchpins” relate to successful athletic teams. We often refer to them as “glue guys.” We love coaching them and we know that we need at least one of them if our team is going to win.

Merriam-Webster defines “linchpin” as “one that serves to hold together parts or elements that exist or function as a unit.” Similarly, Godin describes them as “people who invent, lead, connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.”

After reading Linchpin I reviewed my notes and developed a list of the eight essential characteristics of “linchpins” for whatever team it is that you coach or lead:

1. Linchpins connect teammates with each other. – They organize team bonding activities and when problems arise between teammates, they bring them together and mediate.

2. Linchpins figure out what to do next. – Linchpins are leaders. Leaders focus on what needs to be accomplished next and establishes vision. They pick their team up after a loss and get them focused on the next game after a win.

3. Linchpins are not afraid to be in the limelight. – While linchpins must be humble, they also must be comfortable receiving attention, especially the criticism that often comes with the role of the leader.

4. Linchpins are not satisfied with being average. – Their focus for themselves and for their team is on producing.

5. Linchpins are optimistic. – They do not dwell on the negative. They look forward to what is ahead and visualize success.

6. Linchpins think about failure differently. – Linchpins learn from failure. They use failure; they don’t let failure use them.

7. Linchpins give their gifts. – We have all been blessed with a set of gifts that we can share with others. Linchpins give their gifts to their teammates. And never stop giving.

8. Linchpins have been taught how to lead, but actually lead very naturally. – Their charisma pervades all of the characteristics already mentioned. Contrary to what some may think leaders are developed. The linchpin knows how and when to use those leadership skills with his team and it happens naturally.

Please feel free to share these characteristics with members of your team. Maybe it will foster some positive discussion amongst team members and your athletes will gain a better understanding of the necessity of teams having “linchpins.”

Resources Mentioned in This Blog
Book: Linchpin

Website: Merriam-Webster

Question: I have provided a list of the characteristics of a “linchpin.” What other kinds of actions and behaviors does a “linchpin” bring to your team?