Great Coaches Set Great Examples for Classroom Teachers
With schools and sports so deeply intertwined in America, it’s no surprise that great coaches offer important lessons for classroom teachers. After all, coaches and teachers have much in common. Take a disparate group of people and guide them toward a common goal — this could describe a coach or a teacher.
Here are five ways to apply the examples of great coaches (and one great player) to your classroom practice:
Put the team first
I once heard the famous NFL coach Bill Parcells speak. He didn’t talk about the games he won, the elation of a Super Bowl triumph or the satisfaction of being inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. Instead, he spoke of how he loved emphasizing that his teams were far more successful when they worked together to get to a common place.
This is the same ethic you need in your classroom. Be conscientious about treating your class as a single unit where everybody is in this together. Encourage them to work together on your curriculum and avoid pitting them against one another for grades or attention. Try to focus on the greater strength that comes from the team, not the individual players.
Practice the little things
Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden would famously begin every practice season by sitting down and showing his players how to put their socks on. Yes, their socks on. He knew improperly fitting socks would cause blisters, and blisters would cause difficulty on the playing floor.
The little things — how to complete homework, format a paper or ask someone for help — that seem so obvious need to be explicitly taught in the classroom. Assume nothing, and spend time going over the precise expectations of your classroom. It’s the broad combination of little actions that brings success.
Get students ready for game time
The Ironman triathlon is 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running; success there requires many months and miles of training. Ironman coaches tell their athletes that race day is nothing more than a “victory lap,” and that arriving at the starting line fit, rested and prepared is a victory by itself.
Take the same approach to preparation with your students. Let them know their hours of homework, testing and classwork will lead to success in high-stakes tests like state standardized testing and college entrance exams like the SAT or ACT. There’s nothing like that feeling of deep preparation and confidence when you sit down to tackle a big test.
Sometimes great players are as inspiring as great coaches. I can’t help thinking about New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who capped off his Major League Baseball career with amazing statistics and multiple World Series championships. Yet for all Jeter’s success on the field (he’s almost certain to be a first ballot Hall of Fame candidate), he’s best known for his workmanlike, day in/day out approach to his playing duties. Always of good cheer, supportive of his teammates and never a finger pointer during rough patches, Jeter is known as one of the most humble players of his generation.
There’s a lesson here for our classroom work. The braggart and the loudmouth might appear to shine brightly, but their behavior and actions will soon alienate their peers. Preach to your students that you expect them to work hard, be on time and treat each other well. Yes, there will be times to congratulate each other and have fun, but at the end of the day, school is about learning to be a good person and building their academic potential.
Herb Brooks led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to the gold medal, defeating a mighty Russian team in a thrilling, legendary match known as “The Miracle on Ice.” Brooks wasn’t known as a particularly nice guy. He was gruff, somewhat irascible and not always the kindest to his players. Yet most importantly, he was that same person all the time.
Great coaches, and teachers, understand the importance of consistency in behavior. Your students need you to be the same person — whatever that person may be — every day. Having an erratic personality will throw off the learning and make students feel unsettled in the classroom.
All these lessons have a place in your classroom practice. You may not ever win a Super Bowl or play shortstop for the Yankees, but you can take apply the examples of great coaches and players to your classroom. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.