Keeping Your Eyes Tight: 3 Ways Athletic Directors Keep Coaches Focused

Corey Warren was a wide receiver at Oklahoma University and named to the Sooners all-decade team for his performance and leadership in the program. I work at the same school with Corey. He is a great mentor and passionate coach. Corey is on the coaching staff of our football team and girls basketball team. Recently, I crossed paths with Corey as he was walking towards our gym to keep the stat book for a JV basketball game. It is not a normal task for Corey and I asked him why he was doing it.

‘Keeping stats at games helps me keep my eyes tight.’

I love that statement – keep my eyes tight. If you ever kept stats for a game, you know you have to pay attention to things that you don’t have to worry about when you are casually observing. ‘Keeping your eyes tight’ is knowing what to pay attention to, and what to ignore.

Coaches are often overwhelmed with a dizzying array of details to stay on top of and controversies to resolve. Angry parents, bus drivers, disgruntled 3rd string players, posting to social media, and awards dinners come to mind and I just scratched the surface. How can they keep their eyes tight amidst all that can distract them from running programs and impacting student-athletes?

They need an athletic director that clarifies expectations, celebrates them publicly and consoles them quietly. How do I know this? I researched it at length and have written about it extensively. These three Cs are key leadership behaviors of athletic directors that lead coaches toward excellence. Let me explain…

CLARIFY EXPECTATIONS – There are many things that coaches can do to be effective. As the leader of your department, it is critical that you narrow their focus down to 3-5 that must be done first. Those are the things that are expected of them and the things that they will be evaluated on. Clarify those things (you’ll have to do it often), and it is likely your coaches eyes will be tight on what matters.

CELEBRATE PUBLICALLY – Scott Eblin, in his book ‘The Next Level’, quipped that the work no longer speaks for itself. It is a reality of living life in 2022 where everyone is over-informed and platformed. Coaches can be doing life-changing work, but if someone is not making others aware it might as well not be happening. I feel strongly that celebrating coaches is a key leadership behavior of athletic directors.

CONSOLE QUIETLY – During the pandemic, I developed a personal mantra to be the athletic director that my coaches wanted around when it was all going wrong. The losses sting our coaches bad. The star player gets injured. Tragedy strikes a program. The anticipation of a great season comes crumbling down when someone transfers out. It is important to celebrate coaches when things go well. It may be more important to be the first to console them when things go wrong.

Much like Corey Warren keeping his eyes tight by studying the movement and actions of players while sitting on the sidelines keeping a scorebook; athletic directors must know the most important things they can do to keep their coaches focused on what really matters. Keep their eyes tight!
~Chris Hobbs

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