What makes a coach “productive”?

A coach’s job isn’t to produce better players and teams. It’s to build systems that produce better players and teams.

This post originally appeared in the March 29, 2021 edition of Monday Morning Edge.

Before Spring Training 2020 got shut down, I was with a co-worker at the facility when we started chatting about new coaches that had gotten hired into professional baseball over the off-season.

I commented that I didn’t really understand why everyone seemed to add some deviation of being “excited to learn” in their announcement post on their social media channel of choice. What my co-worker said has stuck with me ever since:

“Yeah. It’s like, I didn’t hire you to come and learn. I hired you to be productive right away.”

-My anonymous co-worker

That comment opened up a brand new perspective to me. Before then, it had never clicked for me that coaches should be held accountable to produce something of value. The essence of productivity isn’t checking off the boxes on your to-do list; it’s doing things that matter. I knew this in the abstract, but it remained there.

So, if coaches are supposed to produce something of value (be productive), it’s important to figure out what that something is…

We’ve been led to believe that a coach’s job is to produce better players and teams. This is obviously true, but I don’t think it gets at the core of what modern coaches do. We’ll get to that soon.

Earlier this week, I ran across this tweet from Patrick McKenzie:

Elon Musk has a similar point of view on what his car company produces. He often talks about “the machine that builds the machine”. Or as he put it in a tweet, the factory as the product.

With these two things in mind, I asked myself,

“What do coaches produce?”

And I think the best answer for modern coaches is:

Systems that build better players and teams.

When I talk about coaching systems, you might think about Phil Jackson’s Triangle, Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense, or Jürgen Klopp’s Gegenpress. But that’s not exactly what I’m talking about…

When I talk about systems, I want you to think about a process-driven machine that produces a consistent result.

This can be a “system” of play, but when it comes to producing a result, you want to systematize your knowledge so that you can solve increasingly more challenging problems year-over-year rather than having to re-invent the wheel every season.

When you have systems, you can package up what you know and replicate it time and time again to get the ultimate downstream result: better players and teams.

And this is how you create leverage — something you must understand if you want to coach in the 21st century.

So what does this look like in practice? I’ve jotted down 3 ideas in my notes, but one thing you can do is create a standard development plan for your athletes.

  • If you’re a high school or college coach, what standard development needs does the common athlete have in years 1-4 in your program?
  • If you’re in private development, you want to have a general outline of what a development plan will look like for that kind of athlete at that time in their career.

No matter what level you coach, you want to have a general training system that gets consistent results year after year. Obviously, you will need to iterate along the way, but you need to focus on improving the over-arching system — this is what it looks like to build the machine that creates the players.

You have everything you need to make this happen. Start small, move quickly, and never stop iterating.

Further Reading: