Focus on the Program, Not the Athletes

The most difficult thing about being an athletic director in an international school overseas is that the student body is fluctuating as is the coaching staff.   This is not a place where a student is likely to begin in kindergarten and wind up graduating from the school in Grade 12.     The average life span of an athlete in my school is 3-4 years.   So if I were to focus my efforts on developing a few specific athletes, I would find myself on a huge roller coaster ride.    So instead I have chosen to focus more on the development of the program so that each year it grows and becomes better regardless of the athletes and the coaches.   Of course, there is no substitute for good coaching, but I can’t always count on it being there.

Athletes have off nights and even face difficulties off the playing service that affect their play, put when a program is strong, it is always on and produces high quality athletes.

The first thing that I do, right or wrong, is what I learned from the movie, “Field of Dreams”. I provide the athletes with a time and space to do the sport. In the movie, it says, “if you build it, they will come.” Nothing could be more true. If you give people a time and space, they come and participate.

Once a time and space is given which is probably the most important element, then what hugely increases participation is that the coaches and program directors are filled with wild enthusiasm and encouragement. So many people are naturally reluctant to enter into play because there is often too much pressure on performance instead of learning in sport. It takes people who know how to encourage people to play regardless of results to get large numbers participating. This quality is just so important because you can have lots of time and space, but if the coach is listless, you will only get athletes who already have a lot of internal drive and motivation. The reluctant ones stay reluctant and off the court.

Many people who begin coaching with young people know very little about the sport. Their technical skill gains with time in the same way that an athlete’s skill increases year by year. You don’t have to be the greatest technical coach to begin have a good program, but good coaches are always seeking ways to change and learn just like good athletes. So what is also a huge key to a good program is that it is built on the foundation of learning. Coaching and sports are probably more about learning than anything else.


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