“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” — Proverbs 16:3
The first time I was asked, “What is your coaching philosophy?” I had trouble answering the simple question, even though I had been coaching for years. I could easily point you to the philosophy of expert coaches whom I admired; however, I did not have many original thoughts on the matter. This led me to create a 12-page document explaining why I coach. I put a great deal of thought and effort into the project, and I was so excited to show it to one of my mentors in the field. He quickly explained that my philosophy was too complex and would likely be put into a drawer — forgotten by parents and student-athletes — rather than implemented into daily practice. I knew I had work to do.
Then I came across a football coach stating his team would be successful if they bought into P.A.I.N. — Persistence, Accountability, Integrity and Never Quit. I liked this idea but wanted something more positive. I brainstormed about the traits most important to me and thought of my favorite coaches I had studied. In my original coaching philosophy, I identified 25 traits, but I really liked how P.A.I.N. had only four characteristics.
The most important quality to me was Love, the basis of all human relationships and what intrinsically motivates people. Then I thought of Coach John Wooden’s teachings, and I wanted to teach players under my supervision the importance of the process and how to focus on what they can control — their Effort and their positive Attitude. Finally, the voices of Coach Lou Holtz and Vince Lombardi kept whispering “discipline” in my head. I believe Discipline to be the fuel of achievement. I had established my four most important principles, and the L.E.A.D. philosophy was born.
The Bible defines “love” with just one word: Jesus. He died for us while we were still sinners, providing the ultimate example of sacrificial love. Football is such a great vehicle to teach love to youngsters. Every player and coach must sacrifice their time and even their bodies for the betterment of the team. If these relationships are not based on love, then a team cannot and will not succeed. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:36-39). What a great foundation on which to build young men.
EFFORT & ATTITUDE
All too often, players and coaches waste time and energy complaining about the weather, officials or other things they have no control over. Human beings may not be able to control their circumstances; however, I use football to teach young men to focus on the things in which they can control — effort and attitude. Our Master Coach, Jesus, doesn’t tell us that life will be easy. In fact, He said the opposite, that living as a Christian will be hard. In God’s playbook (the Bible), Paul writes that whatever it is we choose to do with our lives, we should give it everything we’ve got and focus on the things we can control with a positive mental attitude (Colossians 3:23, Philippians 4:8).
Some may think of discipline in a negative context, but it is actually what allows us to accomplish great things (Hebrews 12:11). In sport or any other endeavor, it’s not enough to just state your goal. As the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said, “A goal without a plan is simply a wish.” The best of the best realize that our daily choices and habits contribute to who we ultimately become. Sure, everyone wants to play on game day; however, most athletes and coaches understand that one must prepare at practice and in the weight room and must study his or her playbook if they want to be ready for game day. It’s the same in our walk with Jesus. We cannot simply attend church once a week and truly expect to be ready for game day (when Jesus gives us the opportunity to positively impact this world for the sake of His Kingdom). Discipline yourself daily by studying the Bible and praying consistently. Remember, who you are tomorrow is a result of your actions today. Coaches have often said, “You are getting better or getting worse.” Get better today for Christ!
In his book, “Win Forever,” Pete Carroll challenges readers to submit a coaching philosophy in 25 words or less. Through this exercise, the Lord opened my eyes to my coaching philosophy a life mission: positively impact the world through Love, Effort, Attitude and Discipline (L.E.A.D.). As a football coach I am fully aware that my job is to win games; however, more importantly, I believe it is my duty to use my platform and the game of football to both honor God and change the world for good.
At my funeral, I hope people are not talking about how many games I won or how high I advanced in the coaching ranks. My “why” for coaching is to develop the characteristics of the L.E.A.D. philosophy within those under my supervision. I understand that very few of our student-athletes will become professionals in football; however, all of them will become professionals in something else. My hope is that when I coach, others see something different in me that turns them toward Jesus Christ. This exercise changed my life forever, and I hope it will have a lasting impact on others — all for the sake of our Master Coach!
— R. Levi Nelson, Green Bay (Wisc.) East High School head football coach
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