A Competition Not Worth Winning: Thinking Clearly About our Coaching Careers

How the traditional coaching paths have deceived us into entering a competition not worth winning.

In his resignation letter from the 76ers, Sam Hinkie helped me realize that in a lot of ways, sports are a zero-growth industry.

To explain this, let me talk about Major League Baseball. Over the course of a season, there are 162 opportunities to win. Even if you went undefeated, there is no way for you to earn a 163rd win. You can’t grow the size of the pie; your only option is to fight for a bigger piece. This is a zero-growth industry. (Note: Investors don’t usually invest in zero-growth industries.)

Once pointed out, it’s obvious. But few of us recognize this on our own. I know I didn’t.

But once the light was turned on in my head, I started to see this reality everywhere. And I saw it most clearly when I thought about a coach’s career path.

Let me explain.

When I ask those I know around professional baseball what their career goal is, they often tell me they want to be one of 4 things:

  1. Minor League coordinator
  2. MLB coach
  3. Farm Director
  4. General Manager

That’s all fine and dandy. I’m not writing this to discourage people from pursuing their goals. Rather, I just want to point out an obvious truth hidden in plain sight:

There are 30 MLB organizations. Each organization only has one of those roles available (maybe more in the case of coordinators). The number of those jobs aren’t increasing at the same rate as the people who want them.

Scarcity is at the core of competition. Wars have been fought over land. The high school dating arena is all about fighting over scarce resources. And the career paths of the ambitious on Wall Street are paved with scarce money and prestige.

I’m of the persuasion that coaches ought not to compete so much. Sure, there are times where you need to compete. When that’s the case, move fast and win. But quite often, it seems like we’re in competitions that aren’t worth winning.

While my experience is in baseball, I suspect this is the reality across all sports.

It’s become easier than ever to get good enough to enter the conversation for these jobs and harder than ever to stand out among the best. When certifications become a prerequisite for working as a coach, coordinator, or director, anyone who was willing to fork over the money and put in the time is now “qualified”. But that’s a topic for another blog post.