Finding THEIR Why...

By Coach Line


You may have heard the latest in coaching and motivational buzzwords. I have heard it from coaches, athletes and trainers at all levels and I am hearing it more and more. The phrase goes something like, “You need to find your why”. Literally all you need to do is google it and you will find everything from books like Simon Sinek’s Start With Why to articles in Forbes magazine and even sports angles in places like Sports Psychology.

If I asked you to explain the concept of finding your “why”, you as coaches could all expound on the ideas of motivating kids to get up and get going, to dedicate to the grind or to figure out the real reasons for why they participate in athletics. We have all the motivational answers with quick quips memorized. We can even put emotion into the delivery and make kids really think about why they do what they do. We have probably used this idea to motivate AND alienate kids when we wanted to garner specific responses.

The interesting thing about all of this is that we can spout off “motivational quotes” and compose really inspiring pregame speeches all day long and yet so many of us still coach from less than ideal perspective in dealing with the day in/day out teaching aspect of coaching. I want to encourage you for a few moments to hold a mirror up to your coaching and see if you can make any adjustments to the way you communicate with your student athletes. I think you will find that we all could use a little internal examination.


I did not play college football. I was an average high school football player whose biggest accomplishment was being named a captain my senior year. Even then I knew I wasn’t a captain because I was the best player. There were so many other players better than me. I even had a guy I played with come up to me drunk at a reunion and put his finger in my chest and say, “I still don’t know how you were a captain, and I sure as hell don’t know why you are football coach now, you weren’t even any good”! I was just a try hard guy and I left it out there every practice and game because I loved it.

All that being said, I was amazed at how little about the game of football I knew when I became a coach. I didn’t understand the simplest things from defensive line techniques to a route tree on offense. I had coaches that just sort of told us WHAT to do. They explained the mechanics, the repetition, the perfunctory ins and outs without any explanation for why we were doing what we were doing. I look back now as a coach and realize that there were some pretty good football players on those teams even though our record didn’t show that.

I think many coaches communicate this way. They tend to have high expectations for their players and rightly so. However, they don’t really give them much of a real reason for their demands. I have found that many coaches fall into several categories:


We know this guy. His favorite motivational tool is “because I said so”. He commands allegiance and demands your respect not because he necessarily has ever earned it, but because he is in a position of power. When you ask him why he wants you to do something he gets defensive. I think that many players honestly don’t understand the reason for carrying out a fake, or the number of steps in a route. If we took a few extra minutes to explain how what we are doing helps the overall scheme, most of our players would be more than willing to try and adjust.


This coach means well and has so much to bring to the table, however he just can't understand why his 5 foot 8 inch 165 pound safety who runs a 4.9 forty just can’t take a drop step, read run and then hit the alley and bury a running back in his tracks. He thinks that if he figured out how to do it, every player should as well. There is something to be said for keeping expectations high, there is nothing better than seeing an athlete have a light bulb moment and now they can seemingly do something that they couldn’t before. Most of the time however, athletes are giving what they have, it just might not be everything you want it to be.


Similar to the first example, this coach has no tolerance for you NOT understanding his way of doing things and will make sure you and everyone else knows when you make a mistake. Every question is “questioning his authority” and every ad lib is an example of an athlete just wanting to “do it his way”. It goes without saying that students want to be successful. Anytime we start to think they are intentionally trying to undermine the team success, it is usually more of an ego problem on our part.


This coach is convinced that his scheme is so much better than everyone else’s that if you just did what he asked, we would never lose. He does not stop to think about the personnel he has but instead tries the “plug and play” method of football thinking he can find someone to do whatever he needs done. I have seen in recent years that kids watch less and less football for themselves. The NFL and college football are not appointment television moments like it was in years past and like it still is for many of us. They just don’t really understand the basics of the game as they have in previous generations. Our job is to help them understand how our schemes work, not just that we believe they WILL work.


These are not all the examples, but you no doubt have met many of these. I could not just write about the problem without giving you a few ideas for how to bridge the gap between basic instruction and really giving your student athletes the “why”. Try several of these things and see if your students don’t want to give you more than you have been getting.


This sounds silly to many, but as I said before, young people just do not watch as much football as they used to. Find a way to teach concepts that we assume are already understood. Many times this includes things like game management ideas that we thought all players understood. I have even seen a coach use Madden clips to help kids understand things he needs them to get. Many students have played football video games but won’t watch a minute of a live game. Whatever we have to do is worth our time to reach our athletes. Try anything!


This is just as obvious as it sounds. Take extra time! I worked for a head coach who gave me tremendous amounts of ribbing for “over explaining” what I wanted. He said I confused athletes and we didn’t have time to explain in that much detail. My philosophy is, taking extra explanation time cuts down on reteaching later. YOU CAN”T OVER EXPLAIN!


At the high school level, we cannot recruit our kids. We have what we have and need to choose our schemes for the players that are on our current roster, not last year’s players or the last team we coac