Our Coaching Values Part 2

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Unintentional Consequences

“Sports can team with ethics and character and spirituality; virtuous coaching can integrate the body with the heart, the mind, and the soul. But, as my first memory shows, sports can also beat up young people and break them down so profoundly that they barely recover as adults.”

—Joe Ehrmann

I never intended for it to be like this. And, I don’t think many coaches intend for sports to be the way they currently are. Our problem is that we aren’t intentional, and if we want sports to be a platform for good, then we have to be intentional.

Now, if you had asked me what I valued most in coaching, I would have named qualities like selflessness, hard work, toughness, and respect. And, every off-season, I promised to make the personal character of my players my foremost priority. But, I hadn’t made it a priority.

For example, I used team trips—like my team trip to Florida—as a great opportunity to develop my team by playing against new competition and building team chemistry.

But, I never fully realized the most important opportunities on a trip like this for a coach to teach and build character: Respect for their teammates, responsibility for themselves, and appreciation—not entitlement—for the opportunities they have. As I sat in the house, looking out over my team, I knew I needed to start approaching athletics differently and asking how I could lead those young men to become better people, not just improve their performance.

The challenge facing us in coaching is that society measures success in sports by winning championships, earning college scholarships, and getting paid to play the game. In most circles, it has little to do with enjoyment, service to others, or sacrificing for the greater good.

Our sporting culture values player development—not personal development. Does the world need better athletes? Nope. The world needs more kind, grateful, and selfless people. It needs more men and women of character. Character is what truly lasts at the end of a season or at the end an athletic career.

By the end of my trip, I knew it was time to reexamine my values. It was time to start investing in what really mattered.

Clearly-Defined Values

“We become rejuvenated when we step out of the business of coaching and take time to reflect on the values and virtues that inspire and motivate us to coach.”

—Joe Ehrmann

Let me emphasize that this is just a step in the internal process. It doesn’t end here, but it is an important step to discovering who we are as coaches.


Values are the link between our purpose and our actions. Our purpose guides our values, and our values will guide our behaviors.

Let’s look at this in the case of John Wooden. Wooden’s purpose can be found in his famous definition of success: Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you did the best of which you are capable of becoming.”

In his book, Wooden on Leadership, Wooden says his definition of success “became the objective or destination for those I was teaching and coaching.” In other words, this was his purpose.

After his definition of success came his “Pyramid of Success”. John Wooden says he created the “Pyramid of Success” to define the code of conduct and qualities he valued both on and off the court—not just for the people under his leadership, but for himself, as well. The “Pyramid” defined his core values. It was his personal guide. It bridged the gap between his definition of success and his behaviors.

Now, we don’t need to be as creative as John Wooden, but we should have our values clearly defined. The most successful Division One college coach of all time, North Carolina Women’s Soccer Coach Anson Dorrance, has developed his twelve core values. The most successful sports team of all time, The New Zealand All-Blacks Rugby Team, has fifteen core values.

I would argue that we don’t need to have so many! Let’s follow Joe Ehrmann’s example from his book, Inside-Out Coaching. Joe shares that he only has three core values: Empathy, kindness, and service. So, start by defining two or three of your most important values.

Like myself, many coaches wait to define their values until they realize they have spent a long time not living by their values. Now, it’s never too late, but don’t wait until you wake up and realize you have spent years coaching without a map, aimlessly searching for your destination. You know where you want to go. You want to make a difference. Now, you need your map. Whether you create a fancy “Pyramid of Success” or write your values on a beer mat, take the time to be intentional.


  1. Role Model (Coach or Person in Your Life): List the qualities you admire about this person. Pick the top 2-5 qualities. Now, you have 2-5 core values for yourself.
  2. What Drives You Crazy?: Reflect on the qualities of others and yourself that are most upsetting. For example, people being ungrateful.
  3. Recite Your Values: Recite your values on a daily basis. Ask yourself, “How can I actualize these values today?” In the words of Joe Ehrmann, “I continue to wake up each morning, visualizing and reciting my ‘why’, restating my values and virtues—some mornings, robotically, and others, with new meaning and passion—and reading my affirmation.”
  4. Reflect on Your Values: Ask yourself, “In my behaviors today did I live out my values?” For example, in a moment of conflict during practice, did you model love and effort?

-J.P. Nerbun