There is a marked difference between influencing someone and truly impacting them.
You can command, motivate, or manipulate someone to act or behave differently.
You can educate, instruct, and inspire someone to BE DIFFERENT.
The bottom-line difference between influence and impact is that IMPACT is lasting while INFLUENCING has a
Communication and consistency are the deciding factors of making impact or not.
When you communicate, you connect; and consistency in communication develops respect, trust, and relationship. No matter how good your instruction may be, communication and consistency determines its value and beneficial effect on others.
Some questions to consider when coaching athletes include:
•Does the way you address an athlete embrace them into positive action or only push them in hopes something different will happen?
• When you correct, or discipline, an athlete, is there follow-through and consistency with the importance and urgency of the message?
• Do you just motivate someone to move, or do you inspire them to make the decision to move?
• Do you just get someone to change their behavior, or communicate to the degree that they exchange behaviors?
The above answers reveal if the influence you have on an athlete has them just wanting to avoid unwanted consequences, or impacts them to make decisions in their life that lead to what is actually wanted.
As a coach, you don’t have to be liked to be respected. As a matter of fact, a coach who compromises authority to try to “make everyone happy” will lose what they think they are protecting – their voice of influence.
An athlete may always hear authority, but only listens with respect.
It’s not a coach’s job to be an athlete’s “friend”, but a trusted, reliable source of consistent guidance in their life. Respect will develop from this.
An athlete needs to respect a coach in order to unconditionally listen to a coach’s instruction, and trust their counsel and guidance in the way of producing positive outcomes. An athlete may always hear authority, but only listens with respect.
The true purpose of a coach is finding solutions. As idealistic as it may sound, the art of coaching is using an athlete’s “strengths” to eliminate “weaknesses”. A coach who is skilled in making accurate assessments of situations, on and off the field, and is consistent with their principles, will be in the best position to find and implement solutions.
Productive coaching leads athletes– individually and as a team– to see through the self-limits of inferiority, doubt, and fear, and into the process of uncovering and realizing their true potential. Again, it’s respect that brings clarity and trust to a coach’s voice.
Fear of failure and fear of success are simply bookends of counter-productivity. Once coaches realize this, he/she can be a stronger part of the solution by getting to the root of destructive patter
All disciplinary issues with athletes– such as disrespect, rebellion or indifference have their origin in fear. There are also performance issues that are founded in the spirit of fear. Consistent communication leads coaches/athletes through these challenges.
The coaches who have the greatest impact on their athletes are not perfect human beings or always pleasant to be around. They are the coaches who emphasize solutions with consistency and who refuse to allow their athletes to become satisfied with inferiority, mediocrity, or even superiority.
These coaches inspire confidence without complacency; pride without conceit. They continue to “raise the bar” just enough to sustain confidence in the perpetual process of fulfilling potential. They do this by being consistent in their expectations, values, and standards.
Coaching: The Perpetual Influence
Over the years, I’ve never been prompted to write (or even talk) about “my impact” on others. We typically focus on an athlete’s ability to perform well on the field or in the weightroom rather than discussing how we instill character in athletes.
I believe that we, as coaches, are not qualified to determine the degree of actual impact we have on our athletes. This reality will be based on the lives led by those young men and women under our guidance for an extended period of time, and the life they lead long after our regular presence, rather than some weekly stat sheet.
Yes, there are always checks and balances in our work to keep us on the right track, but we must not waste time worrying about what’s not in our control, and this includes our “popularity” with our athletes. What we can control are our values and principles, and how consistent we are in expecting and enforcing them.
I believe my personal experiences in coaching can provide some clarity of the real potential for impact we have available to us as coaches.
I believe coaches have the opportunity to have amongst the greatest constructive impact on young men and women’s futures. Yes, that’s a strong statement, but one that has plenty of examples to support it.
In effective coaching, every moment is a potential teaching moment.
I state this purely to express the infinite impact coaching can have on a life, and it can be even more relevant in this current generation by fully understanding our potential influence in a young man or woman’s life. In effective coaching, every moment is a potential “teaching moment”.
From the weightroom to the classroom to the field to the home, we can play a key role in being part of solutions to each young man and woman we work with.
There is no such thing as “neutral” influence as a coach; we can certainly be ineffective, but not necessarily neutral. We are either a constructive or destructive presence.
In my experience, I can recall “defining moments” with certain coaches I had as a child that have stayed with me throughout my life, and impacted the way I coach athletes and the principles I choose to live by.
Some of these experiences were positive, but some were not. They were each constructive in the outcome of their occurrence. I will share one personal example that stands out later in this article.
I believe that a coach’s primary purpose is to be a constructive presence to each athlete in their circle of influence. That known, I must clarify that there is a difference in being just a “positive” influence and a constructive presence.
While constructive coaching is about positive outcomes, we, as coaches, are not to be a cheerleader who does not confront uncomfortable issues with unwavering authority.
There will be times when critical input and unpopular decisions will be necessary to sustain the primary constructive objective, both for a team and the individual athlete.
Throughout a coaching career there will be personality clashes, misunderstandings, and other reasons out of our control that affect whether we connect with a particular athlete or not. We must not allow those to change our principles, objectives, and the expectation of being part of a solution in athletes’ lives.
Yes, we are to learn and progress in the ways we empathize and communicate with our athletes, yet when there are issues beyond our control, we must not permit compromise or indifference to overtake our intentions, principles, or primary objectives.
Foundation of Success
When I was a young coach, I was completely focused on an athlete’s performance, as this confirmed that I was succeeding in my work. While this was not “wrong,” I no longer allow this to be the only way to determine the benefit I have on an athlete.
While athletic performance measures will never become insignificant, as we mature as coaches, there will be the realization that our true success is based on how we influence the young man or woman as a human being more than it is with any specific performance.
The irony here is that, when we take this perspective, we actually lead these individuals to fulfill their potential in all aspects of their lives, which includes athletic performance.
We are to use the perpetual path of pursuit of athletic excellence as a medium of teaching, and implanting, the principles of commitment, consistency, and confidence. This is the unfailing path manifesting from the impact of constructive coaching.
When we teach our athletes to prepare in the expectation to be the best, we instill character values, principles, and work ethic qualities that are applicable to all areas of life.
By our doing this, we teach our athletes that refusing intimidation is a personal decision that each individual has the authority in making.
When a young man or woman embraces responsibility and accountability they also connect with empowerment, which repels being intimidated by any opponent, condition, or circumstance.
It’s About Balance
Rather than getting fixated on isolated situations, it’s infinitely more constructive to focus on the day-to-day process of the coaching relationship.
In our present era, it’s different than it was in generations past. Each generation has innate challenges, thus it’s not better or worse today than it was 25 years ago; it’s just different.
Kids are exposed to more off-the-field distractions, near non-stop stimuli, external input, and clutter than in generations past. And, we are more effective coaches by understanding, yet not conforming to, this reality.
Where in eras past, a coach often could simply show up and bark commands with an air of intimidation and athletes would comply with a sense of reverential fear, today it’s essential to connect with communication– along with consistency of principles– to build trust and respect. These are constant reminders that success is not a destination, but a never-ending process that is a major part of today’s coaching success.
We earn an athlete’s trust by unconditionally sustaining our principles. General rules can be taken into a case-by-case consideration, but principles must remain intact regardless of circumstances.
We must not compromise those values with modern-day-tolerance that is so prevalent today, but use effective ways of enforcing those standards in an understanding, yet still reliable, way.
As any parent can attest, most young men and women don’t like “rules” and the discipline that is associated with them. However, they internally desire and need the stability it provides. Discipline should not be a reaction, but a reliable, guiding quality to insure the primary objective is sustained. Effective discipline is proactive, not reactive.
Principles and boundaries are not the end itself, but a means of expectation and direction that leads to a desired result. Our job is to communicate this truth, and that only occurs with consistency of expectations.
Coaching is a balancing process that includes factors outside the limited time we have with our athletes. Our job is to clarify our expectations and boundaries to such a degree that our athletes fully understand the lines that are not to be crossed.
By doing this, we are impacting these young men and women with self-worth to the degree where they eventually discipline themselves rather than needing the threat of a penalty to guide their decisions.
Our ability to help athletes understand that the present moment is the only time that they can truly control, will be the most important lesson in productive behavior. Inf fact, this may be “the secret of success” to life in general.
Not Our Concern
In truth, our success as coaches, teachers, and leaders is not the number of “followers” we have, but the ones we constructively impact. Our impact will always be more relevant than just our popularity through the quantity of contacts.
As coaches, our primary objective is in leading an athlete to find, follow, and fulfill their potential. I see the preparation for sport as a microcosm of life. Integrity and consistency are the substances worthy to follow, not marketing skills or P.R. savvy.
Keeping a symbolic scorecard of success in that regard is misguided and a waste of time.
That known, I am always appreciative and blessed by words or messages from an athlete, parent, or a coach about how they see positive change in an athlete.
The overwhelming majority of our athletes will not earn their living playing a sport. They will go on to other careers, and we want the principles we infuse in them to be universally applicable to their lives.
Again, when we truly realize that sport is nothing more than a great teaching opportunity for life, the principles we teach can have great impact on athletic performance and success as a very exciting benefit.
Making impact as a coach is about illuminating the ‘path of the process’. It’s not just getting athletes to do what they are “supposed to do” but having them buy-in to the greater reality in that process; the why of what they are doing. Getting athletes to understand the why is the foundation of buy-in to the what and when. Again, this is impact.
The most successful coaches in the world of Strength and Conditioning are the ones that inspire the highest degree of personal accountability rather than those who just yell motivational mantras, have a drill sergeant persona, or design the most technically-savvy programs.
It’s common to preach that team sports are “not about I“, however we must convey the truth that there is an “I component” that requires each individual to be accountable to. While it may sound humble to say “I don’t matter“, it’s discounting that there is no “we” without personal responsibility.
The best teams are made up of the highest percentage of accountable individuals. Our job as coaches is to clarify that truth in an impactful way.
Excellence Expected is Excellence Expressed
There’s an undeniable spiritual law: Excellence expected leads to excellence expressed.
Nothing destroys potential as assuredly as indifference. Teaching athletes to take command of what they can control sets them up to make good decisions. When we clarify expectations we are clearing the path-of-process, and impacting our athletes.
Indifference comes from confusion of what is expected in the immediate. When there’s no clarity in what’s expected now, there’s confusion of what to expect ahead.
Simply stated, consistency of expectation in the present paves the path of excellence in the future. We are best to teach our athletes to take command of what they do control 100% of the time, and this will minimize any adverse effect of what they do not have control of. The badge of leadership is “being a thermostat, not a thermometer” in your present environment.
Accountability is constructively contagious, and teaches athletes to impact their teammates in the way that goes beyond a random winning season and into becoming a winning program.
The University of Alabama football program has sustained a high level of excellence over an extended period of time. While this success can be attributed to aspects such as Head Coach Nick Saban, recruiting, and on-field coaching, in actuality the most vital component is due in large part to the work of Strength Coach Scott Cochran.
Having relationships with several highly-respected collegiate strength coaches, I consider them “the heartbeat” of their respective programs, and Scott Cochran is one who exemplifies this with his unrelenting influence, impacting young men to become men who positively impact their entire environment.
I’ve observed Coach Cochran’s work over the last 10 years and have worked with many athletes who’ve also been under his guidance. All you have to do is ask any of those men if there’s any substantial carryover from their time in Coach Cochran’s program to their daily lives today, and the unanimous affirmative answer reveals the true significance of a coach’s impact.
Winning programs refuse complacency by building accountability from the inside out, and Scott Cochran has mastered this principle year after year.
Coaching is Connecting
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
The reality is that there will be some athletes who will choose to take a counterproductive path and and we will not be able to understand why we did not have the impact we intended.
Conversely, there will be those we thought we did not connect with, only to find out later, that we had a significant impact on their lives. We must refuse to allow our present perception to change our passion, purpose, and responsibility of expecting to be a positive impact on each athlete’s life.
Just as we expect from our athletes, effective coaching is forever a process that knows no complacency.
Simply stated, impacting athletes is not about any particular training method or playbook, but about how we use those tools to communicate life principles with our athletes. Successful coaching uses our systems to impact athletes rather than just trying to use athletes to validate our system.
On the field and off, I’ve witnessed coaches use the most simple principles imaginable to generate huge impact, and I’ve observed some of the most intelligent systems fail miserably.
Remember, the key is in consistent, constructive communication. Even the most critical input can, and must, connect with an athlete to inspire positive action and output.
When there’s a situation that calls for us to use a stronger, louder, reprimand to get the attention of an athlete (and there will be), we must follow it with input to bring solution moving forward.
In other words, there’s no benefit in leaving someone “in the problem”. Once it’s acknowledged, teach athletes to take ownership, and use that powerful position to move forward.
We must keep in mind that our vigilance in reprimanding an athlete isn’t us just showing our disapproval in the isolated situation, or thinking we can make an athlete “feel bad enough” to make the correction. It’s about bringing light to an issue that needs correction for the greater good.
Condemnation has never led anyone to constructive change.
Who’s Impacted My Life
When it comes to others impacting my life and career, I consider the key mentors I’ve had in the athletic preparation and fitness fields over the span of my 30+ year career as playing vital roles in my development. These people have helped by setting examples, confirming my path, instilling the values of the continuous process of learning, integrity, genuine humility, and communication that are essential for both success and longevity in coaching.
The first mentor I had in my career is Clarence Bass. Many will know of Clarence as a highly successful bodybuilder and author of books on physique training and living a healthy lifestyle. What many may not be aware of is that he has been a practicing attorney through all the years of his training, writing, and exemplifying the strength-based healthy lifestyle.
Clarence’s ground-breaking RIPPED book series has never been surpassed in its practical content, and his monthly columns in Muscle & Fitness magazine were way ahead of their time. Clarence has entered his 9th decade and continues to live his life’s message of strength, physique, and health.
I first connected with Clarence back in 1983, and he has been a consistent source of encouragement, edification, and accountability for nearly 35 years.
Clarence has sustained a level of consistency in our relationship that has impacted me in unspeakable ways. The take-home from Clarence is that it’s often the subtle, consistent principles you live that lead to the most powerful impact.
Even though my career has taken a path more towards athletic preparation rather than bodybuilding, the principles I learned from Clarence have applied to every aspect of my work.
Probably the most important principle I learned from Clarence is to rely on intelligence and healthy skepticism, instead of physical capabilities and traditional practices, to make the best training and nutritional decisions. That’s the power of impact.
I am beyond appreciative of, and honored by, Clarence’s generosity. I am blessed by the fact he recognized that I had chosen the right path for my life even when successful careers in the fitness field were about as rare as a solar eclipse.
The Coach’s Coach
The list of others who’ve impacted my life also has its roots in the coaching world. I started playing multiple organized sports at a very early age and was fortunate to have many great coaching influences in my life.
I was into everything from Skeet Shooting to Baseball to Swimming, Track & Field, Soccer, Basketball, Martial Arts, Football and Tennis. I was fortunate to have parents who exposed me to a large variety of sports. It certainly set the path I am on to this day.
One coach in particular, Coach Ralph Pierotti, stands out among all of the coaches I’ve had over the years. There were numerous moments in my time with Coach Pierotti that I vividly recall having positively affected my life.
To create a better visual, you could put Coach Pierotti in the lead role of any good inspirational movie involving a coach. Just tell him “be yourself” and you’d have an Academy Award winner.
Many of you can relate to this one particular “life lesson” I’ll share. It’s relevance to this article is in the example of how even one relatively simple coaching moment can provide the positive impact of a lifetime.
Just before 7th grade, my family moved away from the city and school where I’d lived since I was 4 years old. It was literally like starting over, and especially difficult during that transitional time in a young man’s life. I was still a kid but beginning to think more as a “young man” in terms of the ego, self identity, and dealing with authority outside the home.
Playing sports was probably second only to breathing in importance at that time in my life. Along with that, I had difficulty tolerating anything less than near perfection from myself and that carried over to what I expected from my teammates. I loved to win but my distaste with losing was even stronger. I’m not saying this with any sort pride or satisfaction but to set up what was one of those most impactful moments for me as that naive 7th grader.
My new school was playing my former school (where I had gone since Kindergarten) in basketball. Considering I was only a few months removed, my friendships with the opponent were still quite close. I wanted more than anything to beat my old school in front of my former teammates and their parents. However, what started with great hopes quickly went in another direction.
We got behind early, and the cocky, embarrassed, and immature kid in me began to let the frustration escalate. My mindset was “just get me the ball, so I can score“. I had no interest in encouraging my teammates in a way that would positively affect the team. I only wanted to save face by being the one who stood out. I did eventually “stand out”, but not for the reason I wanted.
As the game continued to go in the opposite direction, on one of the trips down the floor, a teammate did not see me open and again failed to pass me the ball. He threw the ball away and one of my best friends, on the other team, scored another easy basket. This happened time and again, and in an obvious show of frustration, I looked to our bench, emphatically put my palms up, shook my head at Coach Pierotti as if to say “someone needs to fix this”.
On the very next in-bounds, I passed to a teammate who had just entered the game; he took the ball under our basket, picked up his dribble, was immediately covered, and shot the ball into our basket, scoring two more points for the opposition. I looked at Coach Pierotti and again threw my arms in the air with that look of “can you believe I’m having to go through this?”
Coach Pierotti immediately called a time-out, motioned for me to come to him, grabbed the front of my jersey, quickly assisted me to a seat on the bench, looked me straight in the eyes, and firmly stated “if you ever do that again, you will never play another second for me“. Now I got to “be the star”. I thought I was already embarrassed, but this took things to a whole new stratosphere. Everyone in that gym was looking not at my teammates, but at me.
It went from me thinking I was being embarrassed to me being truly humiliated, and justifiably so. This moment of strong critical input from Coach Pierotti was a time of constructive coaching that was actually one of the most impactful lessons in my life.
Coach Pierotti had given me several opportunities get rid of my frustration on my own by not outwardly confronting me until that point. However, my body language only got more counterproductive to the team. He finally stepped in and clarified his expectations for me.
This became one of those “life moments” that taught me the reality of leadership, and influences how I coach young athletes nearly 39 years later.
Another key lesson I learned from Coach Pierotti stemmed from the fact that he coached every soccer team in that school, from 1st grade through the 12th. This means he had to manage every level of physical, psychological, and emotional development in those age ranges. He masterfully met each kid at their level and communicated his expectations without fail.
Considering I’ve worked with kids as young as 8, all the way through pro athletes, I fully appreciate the unique challenges this presents. Watching Coach Pierotti taught me that there is value in coaching every age and every level.
Another foundational principle I learned from Coach Pierotti is the expectancy of excellence through preparedness. He taught his athletes to respect every opponent, but to be intimidated by no one. He had us so prepared – physically, tactically, and psychologically – to compete for our best rather than against some opponent.
We were winners before the game started. He was way ahead of his time as a leader, having us consistently believing in ourselves individually and as a team united.
We consistently won championships throughout my time with Coach Pierotti. But, this is not what led to Coach’s values; it was the product of them. I can honestly say, I never went into a single game (the aforementioned basketball game withstanding) with Coach Pierotti without believing I was ready to compete, prepared to win, and confident enough to respond to failure or adversity without being defeated.
Successful coaching is about understanding how to lead people more than it is a sport or training methods. Coach Pierotti exemplifies a coach’s coach, in that he’s the type coach who could take a team in a sport he has no direct experience with, and coach them into winners.
This experience has continued to impact my daily life, nearly 40 years later. And I’m fortunate enough to personally share those impactful experiences with others and thank Coach Pierotti for the impact he’s had on me.
What are the take-home messages from the impact of Coach Pierotti?
• We are always leading in some way or another.
• Our presence affects everyone around us, and we choose that effect;
are you a thermostat or thermometer?
• Our body language is as significant as our words in communication to everyone around us.
• Clarity of expectations leads to clarity of preparation; Decide on desired outcome and prepare with that as reality.
• Preparing to win every time leads to its greatest frequency.
Vince McConnell is the founder of McConnell Athletics in Alabama. He has been training athletes for more than 20 years and has worked with athletes at every level of competition from grade school to professionals. Learn more about Vince at http://www.mcconnellathletics.com