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Who is the best coach?

school of sport:with TIM MIDDLETON

A NUMBER of years ago a security company posted a massive advertisement that simply stated, “Best Security Company” with the year and their logo. That was all that was stated. So, congratulations! Now we must obviously all go and hire their services — after all, they say they are the best! But, hang on, who says they are the best? Was it just one person who happened to say it? Was it the boss’s secretary who said it? Was it the boss? Was it the marketing manager? Was it a few of their own customers? Were lots of people asked at random? Was everyone in full agreement? Maybe it was actually determined by asking the convicted criminals — they should know, after all!

Then we might wonder how this conclusion was reached. Was there an election, a vote, and if so, how was it monitored? Who conducted the research and how reliable and impartial were they? Were all rival security companies equally assessed? What questions were asked? Was it based on the number of thieves caught or the number of cases reported? Was it because they spoke nicely to customers? Was it because they were tough on criminals? Was it because they responded quickest? Did they have the most guards? Did they sell the most equipment? Did they have the most customers? How on earth did they come to this remarkable conclusion (and why did they not say)?

In truth, none of those are sane reasons for determining the outrageous claim! However, the point of this article is not to consider security companies but to reflect on the similar claims that are often made by sports coaches, in particular at schools level, as to who is the best coach. The immediate and predictable answer will no doubt be the coach of the winning First team, of the unbeaten First team, of the most successful First team. We need to state it very clearly right now, such a claim is not necessarily true. The coach, after all, may have inherited (or maybe even bought) a team of extremely talented players (who were obviously coached by better coaches in previous years) who could have won without even a coach. In short, the best team may not have the best coach.

So, who can qualify as perhaps being the best school sports coach? We should be looking at the one who gets the most out of what players he has and what the players have. Further to that, we should be looking for the coach who gets the most out of the players in the team context, who gets them working as a unit, who gets them working as a team. That, of course, requires a tremendous amount of different skills: the coach has to be able to develop players in terms of their specific skills and their tactical understanding but also by harnessing their characters and motivation.

The best coach therefore may be the one where the team is the star of the team (as John Wooden has it), not any one individual. He needs to be the best motivator, using whatever means is appropriate for those players, in that situation, at that time, encouraging where necessary, pushing, cajoling, inspiring, exciting, equipping, disciplining, doing whatever will work for those players. The coach needs to be a sharp analyst as well, not just of the play but also of the players.

The best coach must be more than that though. The best coach should be the one who enables the youngsters to love their sport, to enjoy each and every practice and match, to look forward to the next session, to play with a smile and an energy. The best coach will be the one whose sessions end when the players do not realise it is over, when players are wanting to stay for more, when they are volunteering to practise further. In fact, the best coach will be the one who inspires youngsters to continue with their sport long after it is compulsory, long after they leave school, long after the whistle has gone. Then their efforts will have been meaningful. And he will do it year after year.

At the end of the day, though, we do not need to know who the best coach is; there is no competition or award, and there is no need to broadcast outrageous claims. The best school sports coach will be the one who is not aware anyone is thinking about the best school sports coach, for the best coach will be the one who is not interested in himself but rather in his players. The best school sports coach will always be thinking he could have done more. We just need to make sure our children develop and delight in the process; that is the ultimate reward and the most obvious advertisement for our sport and for our services.

l Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools Email:

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