Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


What really counts

Q: University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, who was just voted ACC Coach of the Year, gets so frenzied during games that he sweats through his suits. How does that arm-waving, finger-jabbing style contribute to his team's success? And why do other successful coaches pride themselves on their composure?

One coach gets physically emotional and another has an exterior like a bullet shell. After all is said and done this won't influence success in either direction; it is merely in the picture by association.

Much the same way, if three millionaires walked into a bank to deposit a large check and all three were wearing brown shoes, it doesn't mean you should run out and buy a pair of brown shoes if you want to be a millionaire. The shoes are there by association, not causal.

Here's what it takes to be a good coach, and Williams has all three:

1. You have to know your sport.
Every high-performing coach is a walking encyclopedia not just of their sport but of all related leadership and athletic knowledge. They have sought out the expertise, the experience, and the know-how. They know the game they are playing, inside and out.

2. You have to live with your team but not be a member.
Every team has its own nuances, intricacies, and circumstances. Every player is different. Every constellation of players has its own personality. Every tribe has a war cry. The coach has to fully infiltrate his team, yet remain apart from it so he can shape it to reach its potential. He has to be one with the players, but not one of them.

3. You have play the games one at a time.
There is no secret formula for success. Sure, there are traditions, rituals, and basics to be run through and they require systematic attention and a rhythm that doesn't fail. But every game, every play is unique. Each is born from a distinct set of circumstances. The strengths and weaknesses emerge in response to the stress of engagement. Every game has to be coached one play at a time.

Some coaches may pride themselves on their composure, but they measure themselves by their success. That's what counts, not what color shoes they are wearing. And they know it.

By Seth Kahan  |  March 15, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  coaching Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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