Many years ago, I wrote a piece on the three characteristics of great coaches. I had just done research on John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, Woody Hayes and Doc Counsilman of Indiana University. What I said was that great coaches shared three traits:
►They all knew the game well and could teach it;
►They all were good at discipline and setting rules; and
►They all were natural born psychologists who could read their players well.
This spring, I had a chance to sit on a panel with perhaps the greatest tennis coach alive, Nick Bollettieri, at the First Annual New York Tennis Expo. Nick has coached Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Boris Becker and Anna Kournikova, to name just a few. As I watched him patiently pose for photo after photo and as I listened to him, I began to realize that I had left out two traits when I last did my research on coaching greats.
First, Nick has a great respect for the player’s individual style and does not tinker with it too much. Compare the styles of Agassi, Seles, Becker and Kournikova and you see four very different styles of play. Bollettieri repeatedly said he “keeps it simple,” “does not tinker too much,” and “gets in and gets out.”
The second trait I noticed in this philosopher coach is how kind, warm and funny he was. He was humble and self-deprecating. He never took himself too seriously. Dr. Sigmund Freud wrote that mental health involves four mature defenses, including sublimation, asceticism, altruism and humor. Humor is the ability to laugh at yourself and at life. Nick has that knack and this is one reason his students love him so.
So now I have to say that there are five traits of the philosopher coach which includes:
1. Knowing how to teach the sport you coach;
2. Knowing how to discipline the player;
3. Knowing how to support the player;
4. Not tinkering with the player’s individual style of play; and
5. Using humor and warmth the whole time.
I listened to all of the panelists that day. They were all very knowledgeable and smart, but none had the warmth or charm of Nick Bollettieri and none were as much fun as him. A little fun can take you a very long way.
Dr. Tom Ferraro
For consultations, treatment or on-site visits, contact Dr. Tom Ferraro Ph.D., Sport Psychologist, by phone at (516) 248-7189, e-mail DrTFerraro@aol.com or visit DrTomFerraro.com.