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Developing a Coaching Philosophy

No matter what level you coach at, you should develop a philosophy for your program. For most coaches, a philosophy is developed over time, and comes from coaches they played for, mentors, coaching peers, and other resources, like books.

Experienced coaches can generally boil their philosophy down into a few succinct statements. For Scott Bullock, Head Baseball Coach at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colo., five clear principles have come to define his philosophy: Kids come before athletes, put nothing above the team, focus on the process, always have a good attitude, and be the toughest and smartest team on the field.

“Everything I do is based on one of those pieces,” Bullock says. “As a coach, it’s very important to establish who you are and what you want to achieve, and your philosophy will come from that.”

“When starting out, your philosophy typically comes from a former coach,” says Brian Ash, Head Baseball Coach at Jefferson City (Mo.) High School. “You try to take on their personality because that’s what you know. I certainly did that my first few years. But once I started figuring out my own identity, I began to change things.”

For Paul Mainieri, Head Baseball Coach at Louisiana State University, much of his philosophy was a family heirloom. “When my father retired after a 30-year career, he was generally regarded as the greatest junior college coach of all time,” he says. “Many of my philosophies are the same ones he preached to his players.

“For example, when I was a young coach he told me, ‘Don’t win a battle at the expense of losing the war,’” Mainieri continues. “That has helped me judge when something is very important and needs to be emphasized, as well as when to back off and be flexible. He also told me, ‘Never make a decision to satisfy one individual. Always make decisions based on what is best for the organization as a whole.’ I’ve let that advice guide many big decisions.”

Jeremiah Robbins, Head Baseball Coach at Lewis-Clark State College, developed his philosophy in a similar way. Though his father wasn’t a coach, he instilled many of the principles that have guided Robbins’ coaching style. “I was raised with a lot of discipline and structure, but also with a lot of love and patience,” he says. “That has definitely translated to the way I coach and relate to my players. I want them to have a strong work ethic and invest their time in getting better, but I don’t want them to always look for immediate results because the results come down the road.”

Coaches says they also borrow ideas from peers. “Every good coach takes ideas from other coaches,” says Ash. “My staff and I have met with local collegiate coaches to discuss both their program philosophies and their baseball-specific strategies. That’s helped me learn a lot of new things and tweak some of my own philosophies.”

John Dowling, Head Baseball Coach at McLean (Va.) High School, has implemented ideas from coaches in other sports. “As a student-athlete and early on in my coaching career I was way too focused on the external competition, our team versus the other team,” he says. “But now I’ve become much more focused on competing against yourself and your teammates in practice.

“Reading certain books helped in that process,” Dowling continues. “Pete Carroll’s book Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion helped me develop my philosophical approach. And another book called The Man Watching: A Biography of Anson Dorrance, taught me the value of creating a very competitive environment. From those, I was able to pick and choose what aligned with my way of thinking and what I thought would work with our program.” 

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