Scott Baker’s Walkin’ The Sidelines: Success or Failure…How Do We Know?

By SCOTT BAKER

sbaker@lockhaven.com

What is success?

What is failure?

All too often in the world of sports, these questions are answered simply by wins and losses. Let’s face it, when a team scores more points and wins more games most say that they are or were successful. When they score less and lose more games, of course most say that they failed.

Is this a good tool of measurement in Pro Sports?

Yes.

College Sports?

Likely.

However, I strongly feel that this measurement of success and failure is misguided when it comes to evaluating youth and high school sports teams and coaches. When evaluating at that level, we must use wins and losses not as the measuring stick but rather as one-small determinant.

Now I realize that this flies in the face of logic for many. In fact I will admit that I too can get caught up on wins and losses. Coaches across the sports spectrum are routinely hired and fired based on their team’s wins and losses. Sadly, this is the case even at the high school level.

Quite frankly I find this to be wrong. Now please don’t misunderstand me. Winning is important. If winning wasn’t important, scores and records would not be kept. However, winning is often something that is not easy for high school coaches to control.

You see, high school coaches are faced with coaching and trying to win with what they have. They can’t draft. They can’t recruit. Well at least legally in the public school setting that is. They are forced to coach and use what they have.

Sometimes what they have is unfortunately not very much. So, should a coach be judged by, or worse yet, fired because of a few years of classes that are lacking athletes that pass through the school?

You might think so. I don’t.

Winning and losing ranks very low on my list of important factors in determining the value or success of a coach and program at the high school level.

Coaching is teaching. Teaching is about education. Therefore, good coaches are good teachers who value education.

So what is winning?

What is success? More points on a scoreboard?

In terms of what goes into the record book, yes. Otherwise, no.

High school coaches are often faced with developing teams and players out of very little.

Therefore, there are factors other than winning that are better barometers of success than wins and losses for a high school coach and team.

Take for instance, grades. Are the athletes successful in the classroom? A good coach will place an emphasis on his or her athletes winning in the classroom. Academics will be placed before athletics and the players of that team will know it.

So if a team wins very few games yet they are high academic achievers, are they failures? Are the athletes staying out of trouble off the field? Are the athletes involved in the community? Are the athletes displaying good sportsmanship on the field? Do the athletes play hard? Do the athletes play the game the right way? Does the coach and team represent the school the right way?

There are numerous ways to evaluate success that are better than simply using wins and losses. But, the best measuring stick in determining success and failure is, did the athletes and team improve over the course of the season?

If the answer to that question is yes, then success has been achieved.

Why? Because the coach has little control over the athleticism of his team. The coach has no control over the quality of his or her team’s opponents. All a coach can be expected to control is how hard his or her team plays, whether or not they know what they are doing and how they conduct themselves.

Now, let me be as crystal clear as is possible here. I hate losing. I hate hearing kids accept losing. I believe some coaches are deserving of a ticket out of town. Some can’t coach. Those situations are very evident. That however is not most coaches.

Yes, there are a few who simply have no business coaching. Probably, they are not good teachers. Probably they focus too much on winning and by doing so, they lose. Their kids lose.

Rather than focusing on wins and losses, coaches need to focus on the many things that contribute to those wins and losses. I’ve always believed that if you take care of the little things, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.

Again, there are some things within a coach’s control and some things that aren’t. He or she must be judged on those things that are. That’s not wins and losses. Personally, I believe that perhaps one of my best coaching jobs ever was with a group of ninth grade basketball players quite a few of years ago. We finished the season with five wins and 19 losses.

The team played hard. The team demonstrated sportsmanship. The team ran our offense correctly. They couldn’t shoot. They couldn’t handle the ball very well. We lost. We lost a lot. They were good athletes. They were great kids. They worked hard. I worked hard. Perhaps harder than in seasons when my teams won a lot of games.

But during that 5-19 season, we lost. Failure? No way. Not in my mind. Those kids were winners.

What is so often misunderstood is that players make a coach’s job easy. You see, athletes win games. You have them and you will likely win. You don’t? Well, you likely won’t.

So should a coach be evaluated based on whether or not he or she has athletes? Ridiculous.

My thoughts on how to effectively evaluate a coach and determine whether or not they were successful in coaching their team is by looking at two primary things: First, were the players and team better at the end of the season than they were at the beginning? Second, did the athletes and team play hard and enthusiastically at all times?

If the answer to those two questions is yes and yes, then the coach and their team was successful. Now surely there will be some who will debate these thoughts and that is understandable. I only suggest that at the youth and high school levels of play that we all take a close look at the many factors present in attempting to determine success and failure of a coach and team. Failing to do so is lazy and does not offer an honest assessment of what success and failure truly is at that important level of athletic development.

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