Dr. Bhrett McCabe is the founder of The MindSide, a center for Sports and Performance Psychology, and a trusted advisor for the top performing competitors in the country. He combines his personal experience as a 2x National Champion Division I athlete, training as a licensed clinical psychologist, and his corporate leadership experience to help competitors achieve an elite performance mindset.
Dr. McCabe serves as the Sports & Performance Psychologist for elite-level athletes, corporate leaders, and teams including The University of Alabama Athletics, PGA Tour, NFL, and NBA. Dr. McCabe’s strategies are also trusted by high-achieving businesses including multiple Fortune 500 organizations, Andrews Sports Medicine, and Titleist Performance Institute.
These opportunities have come in a variety of forms. Whether it was the privilege to play for legendary baseball coach Skip Bertman, a College Baseball Hall of Famer who led teams to five National Titles at LSU, or being able to work alongside six-time National Champion Nick Saban in my role as the consulting psychologist to The University of Alabama Athletic Department, each opportunity has been educational and has inspired tremendous growth.
Most importantly, each opportunity has led me to understand that there are certain factors that the most successful coaches consistently possess. I want to share with you the lessons I have learned that make these leaders so successful and connect them to the people in their programs.
Below, I’ve compiled six of my favorite leadership tips that have been proven to drive results for programs of all kinds.
#1: Study Business & Entrepreneurial Leaders
Business and entrepreneurial success are not much different from athletic success. In fact, managing a team of business contributors, aligning to a vision, and executing strategically are all part of sports and business. Great coaches understand this.
Study the bookshelves of great coaches and you will find more books on business strategy, execution, and leadership than you will find on sport-specific topics. My old coach, Skip Bertman, used to read every business leadership and strategic execution book he could. He would listen to audiotapes of former military leaders and share with the team during our leadership development sessions. Not only did he share the lessons from the books, but he translated the information and applied his unique expertise on the material.
Coach Bertman retired from baseball and led the LSU Athletic Department as the Athletic Director, demonstrating his executive leadership and strategic vision within a multimillion dollar department. Learn from great business leaders like John Maxwell, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Sara Blakely to name a few.
#2: Write Down Your Program Philosophy
Chick-Fil-A is one of the fastest growing fast food chains in the country, yet their menu is rather limited compared to their competition. Selling chicken is not a complicated business, but doing it well is. Over the years, there have been numerous competitors come and go from the marketplace, but Chick-Fil-A has not only survived but thrived. One of the primary reasons is their culture and how the organization, from the top to the bottom, consistently implement it. In my opinion, it is because their philosophy is understood completely.
Too many times, I see coaches talk about their system or process and stress the importance of it to their team but do not have a formal philosophy in place. Not only are they failing to capture specifics regarding in-game decision making, player development, or off-season training, they are failing to effectively lay out the basics of their organizational philosophy in general. As a result, they fail to maintain consistent execution and buy-in.
Take the time to write down your philosophy, the structure of the organization that you envision leading, and how to develop players. Start there. Season to season, contribute new learnings to your philosophy and remove those that are limiting your growth. Review it every off-season and improve it for the next season.
#3: Coach Individuals First, Teams Second
Too many times, coaches get caught up in finding players who fit their system or style and overlook the uniqueness of the players who are on their team. A friend of mine, Chamique Holdsclaw, one of the greatest collegiate basketball players of all-time—men or women—shared with me a story about playing for Coach Pat Summitt at The University of Tennessee that highlighted her genius. Coach Summitt created an environment of trust and support for Holdsclaw that allowed her to successfully make the move from New York City to the southern college town of Knoxville, TN. By knowing her upbringing and the anticipated challenges, Coach Summit was able to navigate any struggles and did that while managing the unique personalities of her entire team.
Great coaches coach players and coach them up to work in their systems. The investment in the unique physical and psychological frameworks for each player can bring the best out in each player, which will allow coaches to implement into their systems. Unfortunately, those coaches who struggle tend to assume that each player is relatively the same, overlooking the unique greatness of each player. Coach the individuals on your team and work to bring them together, blending excellence into an organizational greatness.
#4: Create a Developmental Plan for Each Player
I was leading a symposium of high school and college coaches a few years ago and I informally polled the audience on how many had written, communicated plans for each player on their team. In a room of almost two hundred, only one coach raised his hand. I asked him why he had taken the time to have a written down plan for each player and he said, “If they are going to invest in me to be on-time, to develop their training, and get them ready for big games, it is the least I could do to have a plan written down to make them better.”
Reality is that very few coaches have written down plans to help players perform better. Consider this scenario. A coach meets with a player at the end of off-season training and provides feedback on what the player needs to do to crack the lineup for the upcoming season. In this meeting, the coach lays out specific plans around fitness and sport-specific training, and the player ACTUALLY does it all. When the player returns to practice and fails to crack the lineup, the player obviously gets frustrated, but comes to the coach again for feedback. Instead of being honest, the coach identifies three other things to work on, potentially sending that player on a wild goose chase, only frustrating the player more and eroding any remaining trust that the player had in the coach.
I work with an unnamed coach in Division I and this coach has a binder for each player on his team. The coach keeps information on each practice, competition, and off-season training program, how the player interacts, how each experience motivates them, and where they struggle. There is nothing inappropriate or incriminating in the binder, so if anyone from the athletic department happened to read them, they would not see complaints, but instead, detailed training plans designed to enhance the on and off field performance of the athlete.
#5: Engage Coaches from Other Sports
Athletic departments in collegiate and high school sports provide a diverse faculty to collaborate with on player development, organizational effectiveness, and coaching systems. Great coaches often seek out experts from other coaching disciplines, regardless of the sports they coach.
Patrick Murphy, the National Championship winning and Hall of Fame softball coach from The University of Alabama, has consistently attended the American Baseball Coaches Association meeting for over 20 years. While the sports are common on the surface, Coach Murphy shared with me that the reason that he goes is to tap into a different perspective and how coaches who coach young men deal with pressures unique to men to learn how to help his female athletes. I doubt many baseball coaches attend the annual softball convention, but why not?
Great coaches find excellence in every corner of their lives. When coaches reject reaching out and learning, it is often a sign of insecurity that they “should have already known what to do.” I had a coach who was fired from their school after a series of losing seasons share that he wished he had spent more time with his coaching colleagues in the department, not just the high-profile coaches. Always learn, read, and engage coaches from different disciplines.
#6: Inspire Championship Visions
Why is it that when a coach mentions that they want to win championships, it is often seen as a negative, increasing pressure, and undercutting the development of players? Why are championships really a bad thing?
I am sure that you are thinking, “I would never question another coach stating that they would want to win championships!” But, reality and evidence suggests it happens with great frequency. Great coaches have an ultimate plan—to develop a process to put their players in a position to win championships with the appropriate training. Admit it, you want to win championships and want to do it the right way. There is nothing wrong with that. The best coaches have the same vision and work every day to develop their players to win championships the right way.