5 Ways To Coach Like a Zen Master


"Prepare for each challenge with a reset-reload mentality..."

As coaches, we often become tangled up in the heat of the moment or succumb to our tense competitive nature that we generally find ideas like "Zen" humorous. Putting aside all assumptions, we are able to see how Zen principles can help us be a more successful coach.  

1. The Stokes Make the Wheel--Each spoke is as significant as the wheel: Each player is as significant as the team. Coaching individual players and understanding their habits, tendencies, and fears/desires goes a long way for a coach. 

Sturdy spokes poorly placed make a weak wheel.
— Eleven Rings, Phil Jackson

Players (no matter how talented) need ROLES. Delivering team-only messages will inevitably alienate some players who may not be as responsive as others. To ensure the team wheel is turning properly, detailed instructions to each player should be constantly communicated. These directives can vary from the simple to the complex but should always relate to the overall functionality of the team. 

Footy Tip: You want to tell your striker (9) to hold his run checking back to the ball for a second longer so he/she doesn't kill the space for an underneath midfielder or a winger tucking inside. Show them how you want it done and illustrate the "cues" they should watch for so they can decide when the opportune moment is to check into that area. Is the passer's head up or down? Is the winger pinching in or staying wide? Is my attacking midfielder on the move into that space or do I need to fill it? 

2. Delegate--Empower your players to take on leadership roles. Creating two-way communication between you and your players is a must if you want to be truly successful. Some players are innate leaders who will take charge if provided the freedom while some are good soldiers who wish to fulfill their duty and provide support where needed. Having the situational awareness as a coach to identify who and when to pass on leadership roles is crucial. 

Footy Tip: At the beginning of the season, run through the standard warm-up routine you require the team to go through before each training session then assign that authority to a few individuals (or the entire team). Give them the responsibility of conducting it entirely. Make the players accountable to each other if the warmup isn't executed well and let them police themselves. If it's not done correctly, tell them to start over from the beginning and do it all over again. 

3. Stay Level-- Don't let the highs get to high or the lows get too low. Be the emotional steadiness your team needs: CALMNESS IS CONTAGIOUS. Note: This does NOT mean being emotionless but rather, not letting a particular event escalate emotionally to be bigger than it actually is.

Footy Tip: Regulate your message to the current emotional level of the team. If the team is amped up and frantic, it may not be the best time to deliver an intellectual, left-brained message. You can either wait for the emotional tension to die down to a point where the players will be more receptive or give a calming word to speed up the process. Coaching points presented to an emotional room will simply fall on deaf ears. Make sure your message is sensitive to the mood.

4. Answer questions with a question-- Zen teachers are experts at this, however, we are not urging you to become a Zen/Koan master (at this point). Your response, in the form of a query, should not be patronizing or sarcastic but instead guide the player to discover the answer individually. You don't need to be Yoda, so don't apply this tactic every time but it is a convenient tool for bringing forth long-lasting comprehension. The player will go away feeling empowered and confident that they hold answers to some of their own questions. Getting the information through to them is most often a case of re-framing the question in their mind. 

5. New Week/New Experience--Treat each game like a brand new experience. Your team may be undefeated or may not have one win on the season, your approach and attitude towards each week should always be renewed. Prepare for each challenge with a reset-reload mentality to ensure that you and the team don't rest on your laurels and are continually striving to improve. What worked last week may not work this week so we must constantly learn new things to keep us sharp. 

Take these few, actionable tips and let us know how they worked for you! 


Go Influence the Game 


Jeb BrovskyComment