Coach vs Leader: I don’t Want to be a Leader

Exauce Ondongo

Strategic Organizational Communications Advocacy

My name is Ex, and I do not want to be a leader. Let me explain why. I got the chance to play on the BYU-Idaho Hawks competitive football team last season. At the same time, I was honored to be the team’s defensive coordinator. I’d never been placed in that situation before. I’d been an assistant coach for other teams previously, but I’d never had the duty of making all of the decision elements for one side of a squad before. So I took the position seriously, aiming to create unease for the teams that we faced. This compelled me to assume the position of all-around leader. I made certain that anything that had to do with defense had to be approved by me. I took on all of the duties associated with training, designing, and executing an effective defense. On and off the field, I lead with passion, encouragement, and energy. We eventually made it to the championship game, but we lost by a team we had faced earlier that season, and had had beaten them 35-0. At the end of the game, I realized that being a leader was not enough; I needed to be more.

Process: ” You Need To Know How To Solve Problems, Your Team Is Going To Come To You.” – Donald Kelly

This year I wanted to do things differently for my team, but I didn’t know how. For my assignment, I decided to compare my experience as a leader to what it means to be a coach. To fully comprehend the concept of coaching, it was crucial for me to speak with individuals who have coached me in the past. I sought out to four individuals who had coached or mentored me. Two of them are CEOs of companies they founded, while the other two have risen to executive positions within a few years. The four individuals are Brent Mears, Donald Kelly, Chris Mathews, and Dale Franklin. (The audio recordings will spread out in this blog).

I asked each one the same questions, and was given permission by all four to be recorded. The questions were:

  • “What are the top 5 traits that you feel define a good coach and leader, and why do you choose those traits?”
  • “How have you been coached?”
  • “What is the difference between a coach and a mentor?”
  • What is the difference between a coach and a leader?
  • Which principles do you strive to live by?
  • Of the three (coach, mentor, or leader), which would best describe you?

In their response, I was able to link five common traits that could be practiced as skills shared by all of them.

  • Delegation
  • Forgiveness
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Problem solving

After learning a great deal from them, I decided to focus my endeavor on team practice of these skills. The opportunity to coach defense again this season was an honor. I found myself exercising these skills during our very first game of the season due to scheduling conflicts.

32 Skunk

During the first quarter of the game, our Quarterback was tackled to the ground, where he received a season-ending injury. His ankle had been broken. His brother was hysterical, our team was hurt, our morale had fallen, and a lot of game was left for us to finish. We were asked if we wanted to forfeit the game, but we refused. The team was in peril and lost a hopeless game 32-0. I could not be upset but only empathize with the pain that connected all of us on that team. As a person who does not rely on much emotion, I empathized with my players and consoled those who could not stop crying.

This experience did not keep us down. Our team came together, became more unified through the experience, and chose to hold each other accountable, which pushed us toward our next game. Before our second game, I practiced delegation during our practices by giving the responsibility of defensive calls to my linebacker. He showed great love for the game and great analysis of the teams that we were going to face. This allowed me to see a different side of coaching that I had not known before the season. I saw the opportunity given to me to step away from defense and personally connect with some of the players on my team.

I learned a lot from each player, especially their strengths and weaknesses. This allowed me to correctly design plays, drills, and positions that would match the play style of the players. I began to be creative in my coaching approach as well as in my preparation for their success on the field. Not only that, but I found myself mentoring players during and after practice. I was invited into the lives of these players, whom I’ve shown confidence in.

Playing football this semester has been a game changer for me. I’ll admit, at first, I was hesitant to commit to this. Quickly, this hesitancy went away. I have learned that teamwork makes the dream work! Coach X has pushed me to make leaps and bounds in football. This season has taught me what it means to push through adversity, to trust in your brothers, and to leave the past in the past! I’m very grateful. -Cam Davis, Hawks CornerBack

When our second game came, our defense was immovable. We won 10-0. The delegated linebacker and I did an analysis of the game and broke down the stats. You’ll find a copy of this below. The opposing team could only execute around 3 and 1/2 plays per drive and only gain 8 yards on offense. Our defense had 1 blocked punt, 1 turnover on downs, 3 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 safety, and only gave up 3 first downs.

Despite the low score on our part, the win rose the hearts of all of our players, who decided to trust me with defense and trust the play. Seeing this drive from each of them, I decided to prepare them for our next game with the goal that my defense would intercept the ball and run it back into the opposing team’s goal. I had to be creative with the plays and drills and help solve our problem of not scoring. I made my defensive backs practice a lot of catching and zone defense before the game. I told them of the goal, and during that game, we accomplished it. We won 18-8, with six of those points coming from defense.

With those two major wins, our team is once again back in the championships. We face the same team that beat us 32-0. I am confident in my players, trust every one of them, and can proudly say I know each one. The point of this experience is that I was taught the power of these coaching skills, which have helped me evolve my players more into leaders who will be successful on the field. Delegating responsibility has opened the door for connections between coaches and players. This allowed me to cultivate these leaders and give each player opportunities to be effective on and off the field. With accountability, creativity, forgiveness when mistakes are made, delegation, empathy, and problem solving, our team has risen from the ashes and plans to win it all.

After experiencing all of this, I’d rather coach than lead.

“Comparing your coaching style this year to last year is totally different. Last year, there was a lot of teaching because there weren’t a lot of guys taking the initiative to learn themselves. But this year, you emphasize that you give the blueprint, and they make the plan come to life. It takes communication, discipline, and responsibility. This is what you taught from the beginning of the season, and players are teaching each other and even giving ideas to become successful. And it began with expectations.” – Anthony Torres, Hawks Offense Coach

Below you’ll see my time log and display.

The tie-dyed white shirt represents the change that I went through. I did not consider myself just a white-shirted constructive coach, but one who takes the time to learn about those around him and creates a blueprint that will match their style and skills so that they may be successful.