What Matters in Sports

By December 21, 2012 13 Comments

In the world of athletics we often get caught up in the totals accumulated in the win and loss column. This goes for coaches, players, and fans. If that is the main focus of playing the sport, we will fail. This week we’ll focus on what really matters and go beyond the x’s and o’s. As coaches there are five specific things we should remember.

First, always keep in mind it’s not about you. Too often we as coaches get sucked into the idea that it begins and ends with us. This often comes from the national media, which can over glorify winning coaches. We think we’re great when we win, and when we lose it’s because our athletes are bad. I have been guilty of this in the past. It’s not right, but I have grown from that mindset and have come to embrace a better one. There were times earlier in my coaching career when I focused too much on winning and not enough on the athletes. I am ten times the coach now than I was then. If we’re in it only for the accolades then it will lead to burn out and a shallow existence.  Coaches, it’s not about us, it’s all about our athletes. Our programs should focus on the value we will provide the student athlete. It should always be about what’s best for the kids.

A second point to remember is the sport and experience is about how you make them feel. Athletes aren’t going to remember the scores of the games or the plays you ran. I tell my athletes that if all I teach them is football and basketball, then I have failed them as a coach. People remember how you make them feel. One thing you must do as a coach is getting to know your players. In order to do this, I meet individually with each basketball player three times during the season. We talk about basketball, the player provides feedback, and most importantly we talk about life. Another thing we do is have team events away from basketball throughout the year. It’s important to spend quality time together away from the court, it helps foster the ‘family’ atmosphere. This season we have already gone to Chuck E. Cheese’s, had a family pizza night, and we will have a surprise event soon. Doing these things will build strong relationships which directly affect the success on court. Ultimately relationships are what it’s all about. I would rather a player remember that I valued them as a person than some play I had them run. I tell my players that what they are as person is far more important than what they are as a basketball player.  Lastly, as a coaches we should always use positive reinforcement. Athletes appreciate this and take to it more than screaming, yelling, and belittling. I know I did when I played. Always encourage rather than discourage.

Third, develop and implement a Character Education Program. During this past football season I helped in creating and implementing a character education program for our athletes. I have taken this and adopted it to fit our girls basketball program as well. Sports should teach and promote character, and as coaches it is our job to make sure this happens. We need to make sure we are teaching life lessons along with the fundamentals of our sport. Less than 3% of high school athletes will become professional athletes.  We must use sports as a vehicle to teach character and values to our athletes. This will make them better people and provide a model for how to live a good life. Many athletes will go onto to hold leadership positions in their careers, what we do now as coaches can affect so many. We have the potential to change lives. In our character education program we use quotes, pictures, stories (both personal & in the news), and film clips to illustrate what our character word of the week means. I highly encourage the use of character education. The many benefits include increased leadership, increased attachment to the program, and preparation for life events.

The fourth item is all about a powerful four letter word: love. The greatest coach of all, [amazon-product text=”Mr. John Wooden” type=”text”]0071437924[/amazon-product], said the greatest word in our language is love. Today, however, it’s almost as if this word has become taboo. We are too concerned with how others will perceive us if we use this word. This is especially true for males. Too many men think it’s not masculine or “tough” to use or show signs of love. If kids grow up not knowing what love is or how to express it we are left with a generational problem. If we want to make the world a better place, we must teach our younger generation what love is. As coaches we need to show our athletes love. I tell my athletes all the time that I love them. I spend a lot of time with them; the relationship between player and coach should be about love and trust. Players will not play to their potential if they do not think the person they are playing for does not care for them. When it’s all said and done, it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s all about the relationships. As a coach, there is no greater reward than hearing from and staying in touch with former players. Always remember, kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

Lastly, keep in mind that winning is a process. Sports reflect life. Once you learn how to win in sports, you will know how to win in life. It’s rather simple but very difficult–that’s why success isn’t for everyone. As a coach I try to teach my athletes a reliable and strong work ethic. Habits are essential to this. I try to instill these work habits from the very beginning and reinforce them during the season and into the offseason. In order to win in sports and life, one must also be resilient. No one likes to lose; I hate losing more than I like winning. But losing offers lessons that winning does not. The more athletes learn how to be resilient and bounce back after tough losses, the more they will able to do this in their careers and in their family life. Paying attention to detail is another vital aspect to winning in sports and life. Little things make big things happen. If we can get our athletes to focus on doing the fundamentals correctly then they will pay attention to detail when that big project is due in college or at the office. Winning doesn’t just happen and neither does success. Those that are successful understand that it’s a process and they’re willing to do the little things to get there.

Congratulations to Kollin Groves for winning last week’s gift card giveaway. Kollin was a former athlete of mine who is now studying and preparing to become a coach as well. He will be a great one, because he exemplifies all the traits listed above.

I need your input, so please respond with your preference. Would you like the blog posts to continue to drop on Fridays or would you prefer another day? If another day, which one?

Thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP!

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Bill says:

    Hey, Kyle, great article! It’s good to know that some kids are still in good hands when they go off to school. I. Hope my daughter is coached by someone who exemplifies these characteristics some day, and who cares as much as you obviously do.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks reading and posting your comment Bill, I appreciate it! Coaching is my passion and it is very rewarding.

  • Mary Kay says:

    Great blog! I look forward to reading it every week. It doesn’t matter to me what day you post it. My preference is whatever works best for your schedule. Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy your break.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thank you very much, I appreciate it! I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas!

  • Kevin McCarthy says:

    Great Article!

    I could have read on and on.

    It’s good to see that there are coaches like you investing in the lasting aspects of sports. If you have a free moment, check out SKWIM International, and see our life ring emblem tab, which symbolizes the aspects and virtues we aspire to in the spread of this new water sport game. We will soon be posting also the 4 attributes which radiate from these, which are to serve, lead, love, and to learn.

    I will be checking for more of your posts!

    Coach Kevin

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks for reading and your kind words Kevin, I really appreciate them! I will definitely check out your site.


  • Michael Hernbrott says:

    Great! Almost to a word what I speak to our youth hockey coaches about.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks Michael, I appreciate it. Glad to hear you have a similar philosophy and you share it with your youth coaches. That’s awesome, keep up the great work!

  • kelmendorf says:

    Just checked out your site Kevin, it is great. I am really impressed! Your organization and sport are truly great. I will keep an eye out for SKWIM in our area. I love the virtues you are aspiring to spread. Keep up the great work!


  • Bart Vervenne says:

    Great article, great message!
    As a youth basketball coach I share the same values.
    Unfortunately, many coaches do not share this philosophy and miss the opportunity to really affect young people’s live in a positive way.
    Even parents (the one of the “good” players) sometimes have problems with this approach.
    How do you try to get your message across people in your program who see winning as the only thing that matters at the sacrifice of young people?

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks Bart, I appreciate you reading and your comment. In our program we talk early and often about our goals besides not winning. I constantly remind our kids that there are far worse things than losing a basketball game, so I’ll use current events as examples. I really think this is where having a ‘Character Education’ program in place helps out. By developing and implementing a program like this you are able to stress the character traits needed to live a successful life. There is no mention of winning a game, rather only using sports as a tool in order to teach life’s important lessons. By having a character ed program, you then create greater involvement in and attachment to the program, which then will lead to more wins. Hope this helps!


  • Jim Carman says:

    Great Article Kyle. I have coached gymnastics for years and follow your positive type of approach. I cannot believe some of the things I see and hear from coaches in gymnastics, usually at the higher levels. I understand when you say for some coaches it’s more about them and their winning record that it is about developing a well rounded child.
    My hat is off to you and I hope more coaches start to addopt this type of approach to coaching.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks Jim, I appreciate you reading and your kind remarks!