Coaches With Character

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.10, November 2004,

When Fred Smith, Athletic Director at Comstock (Mich.) High School, held his preseason coaches’ meeting this fall, he wanted one message to get through loud and clear: The way coaches treat their athletes leaves a life-long impression, and it is more important than the X’s and O’s of a playbook.

To lead off the hour-long session, Smith showed a new video produced by the Michigan High School Athletic Association titled, "Coaching Character," a 10-minute presentation featuring some of the state’s most well-known coaches as well as some of the athletes those coaches influenced during their careers. The video focuses on coaches as educators, and how they help prepare athletes for the challenges they’ll face in life, not just what they’ll encounter on the playing field.

"There are a lot of programs on coaching and character," says Smith. "But the real strength of ‘Coaching Character’ is that it’s produced by a high school association specifically for high school coaches.

"It’s an in-the-trenches kind of production," he continues. "The featured coaches are successful coaches who people in Michigan recognize and respect, and who give validity to the message."

"Coaching Character" is the latest in a series of videos distributed annually by the MHSAA that are designed for schools to use in meetings with student-athletes, coaches, parents, and community members. This year’s offering contains a theme similar to last year’s—differentiating high school sports from other areas of athletics—but addresses it from the coaches’ perspective.

"At no other level of sports do we depend more on our coaches to be actual teachers than we do at the school level," says Jack Roberts, Executive Director of the MHSAA. "The things that have to happen in school sports to educate youngsters go well beyond the boundaries of the playing field, and the coach is the all-important delivery system of that message. It’s important that our coaches—our teacher-coaches—prepare kids properly, and this video reveals the characteristics that teacher-coaches should have."

Smith says that after showing the video, he follows up with handouts on building character and holds exercises where he asks the coaches why they became involved with coaching and how athletics have influenced their lives. "One of the exercises we do for example, is ask them to name the last three Heisman Trophy winners or the last four state championship teams," says Smith. "And as a rule, they generally don’t know the answers.

"Then, I ask them to name someone who has had an impact on their life, or somebody they enjoy spending time with—which they all can do," he continues. "The point is to emphasize that winning is fleeting and it’s the impact that they have on the athlete’s life that’s going to make a difference. Going 9-0 isn’t as important as developing a good, respectful relationship with their players."

Though the video is produced for schools in Michigan, its reach extends beyond state borders. Smith, who is also a member of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, has shown it at recent NIAAA meetings, stirring up interest elsewhere. He recently ordered more tapes from the MHSAA and shipped them to a few athletic directors outside of Michigan.

"I enjoy the videos produced by the state associations versus a commercial product," says Smith. "There’s less propaganda and they cost less. These videos are $10, which includes shipping—which is probably $10 to $20 less than any others I’ve seen on the market."