By Joe Kersting 

Why are you a coach?

The way you answer this simple, straightforward question will spell volumes about what type of football program you will have.

The other question you should consider is: Are you a teacher? For many people, these terms are interchangeable, but for some they are not.

Coaching is the teaching of a sport. Teaching is a very special field with extremely important responsibilities. If you are not ready to accept those responsibilities, then you are in the wrong profession.

What is the driving motivation behind your decision to become a coach? Coaches have a tremendous opportunity and consequently, a tremendous obligation. The opportunity has to do with the shaping of a society and culture. The people you coach are going to be the next leaders of their generation.

What lessons do you want this next generation to learn? Athletes tend to give much more of themselves to their sport than average students give to their academics. Therefore, the lessons they derive from these experiences can be that much more compelling. Think about when you were in school. Do you remember more things from a class you took or from a sport or coach you played for?

For several reasons, coaching isn’t for everybody. Coaching, especially interscholastic football, is a time-consuming endeavor. For most coaches, the income earned in relation to the time spent is quite low, and most coaches don’t become famous. For the occasional Joe Paterno and Pete Carroll, many other coaches do not gain national recognition. Also, job security is not one of the profession’s greatest assets, so the prospect of becoming rich and/or famous through the coaching profession is not very realistic.

What is the motivation then? It varies for each individual coach. For some coaches, the ability to stay involved competitively is a high priority. For other coaches, the challenges of designing intricate offensive and defensive schemes and matching wits with a worthy opponent inspire them. For many, it is love and respect for the sport – a sport that maybe molded their lives and impacted many positive decisions they made. Possibly, it was because of football that they learned some very valuable lessons about cooperation, teamwork, caring or sportsmanship. Many coaches have the desire to pass those lessons on to the next generation and to allow young athletes to grow from the experiences of the game of football.

As a rule, the sport of football is a significant mental and physical grind. How coaches help young athletes to work through emotional experiences is essential to how well athletes grow from their football careers. Many young men become disheartened due to the disappointments with their playing experiences. Others grow tremendously and become better people due to the experience.

It is important for you, as a coach, to be honest and up front about the expectations you have for athletes who are part of your football program. You need to let the athletes know about the tough times and genuine challenges that they will face. Let them know that if they work together and remain committed to each other, they can all come out better.

One of the primary goals you should have for your team is to come as close to your potential as you possibly can. It is about every person coming together for a common cause: being the best you can be. It is about never settling for less than what you have to give. You don’t start something, coach or player, unless you are going to give it your best and see it through to the end.

Share your message and sell what you believe. Great players and great people will buy in and make the commitment. You must spread your message at every opportunity. It is called finding “teachable moments.” Great coaches look for and design situations that will result in these teachable moments.

Athletes can be dramatically affected by the decisions of their coaches. It is of paramount importance that, as coaches, you be as fair as possible in evaluating your athletes. Doing so takes objectivity and an evaluation system based upon the skills and abilities that will make the athletes and the team most successful. A championship football program has coaches who care about the team and about each individual member of the team. They care about each member as a person first, next as a student and then as an athlete. If you want players to give their best, they must know you truly care.

More than anything, coaching the sport of football must be an academic endeavor for the people involved. If you can’t justify your program as an academic experience, then administrators are not going to give their support. If you want football to remain a part of your schools, you need to run your programs the right way. Teaching and caring for your athletes is a great start.

Although professional football is entertainment, high school and college football needs to first be a legitimate learning experience. Over the past 20 to 30 years, many college football programs have been dropped. For high school and college football programs to survive and thrive, they need to be run by people who care about the integrity of the game and who want to see young people grow.

A well-run, successful football program can have a huge positive impact on the rest of the school and the community. School spirit and cooperation can begin with the example of a quality football program. Football is where the young men can start to learn about their impact as leaders. You must tell them to take this responsibility seriously.

The groundwork for developing champions is a positive attitude. The University of Washington would ask recruits a battery of questions to help determine what kind of attitude a person had. One of the questions was, “Do you come early and stay late to be great?” That question spells volumes about a person’s attitude. Ask that question to yourself. The answer is the first step to seeing if you have what it takes to be great and eventually to be a champion.



Joe Kersting has been a residential faculty member of the fitness and wellness department at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College since 1991. He has a master’s degree in physical education and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Northern Arizona University and is a certified personal trainer.