By Cory Dobbs
“Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people.”
In Hans Christian Anderson’s fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes, an emperor, who was only interested in his superficial appearance, is easily led by a deceptive suit maker to believe that a new cloth – invisible to those unfit by lesser status or simply incompetent to discern the fabrics beauty – is just the right fabric to make him the finest suit in all his lands.
The emperor himself cannot see the special cloth from which his suit is to be crafted. However, he pretends that he can see the new clothes crafted from this special fabric, professing it to be the finest suit. He does this out of fear that he, like his subjects, might be unfit for his position, or shamefully stupid. Those in his employ do the same.
Convinced he’s outfitted in the finest suit known to mankind, the emperor calls for a ceremonial parade. The emperor, strutting along in his carriage while his subjects feign his suit’s splendor, is confronted by a little boy who compelled by his innocence exclaims “The Emperor is Naked.” The exposed emperor struts on, pretending not to hear.
A basic assumption of today’s educational leaders is that the successful coach is a teacher as well as a learner and that the coach has a responsibility to contribute to the player’s educational experience. This means that as an educator, a vital role the coach plays is to enlarge the world of experience for those in his or her charge. The lessons that they teach, in addition to sport skills and strategy, help instill a broader perspective and help the student-athlete construct a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of his or her experience. The great coaches lead by being great teachers.
Coaches who excel as leadership educators see everything in life as an opportunity to learn and grow, to change and improve.
Great coaches focus on the transformative learning process of participating in sports weaving life lessons into their coaching practice. The ripples of their lessons widen as the student-athlete grows through the years.
Coach John Wooden’s teaching compounded as his former players matured and were better able to align his lessons with life’s circumstances. Keith Erickson, a member of Wooden’s first NCAA championship team, shared his thoughts on the legendary teacher at his funeral. “He used to tell us all these little things," Erickson said. "It was about life. After we were through [playing], every one of us would say 'Why didn't I listen?' That's why so many guys were always going back out to his place and spending time with him."
The difference between a coach who leads by authority alone – command and control – and one who leads by influence is what I call a Teachable Point of View. A teachable point of view cannot be crammed into the student’s brain, nor can your coerce the young mind to accept your point of view. Successful coaches are those who understand that the desired result of interacting with student-athletes is transformation. Coaches with a teachable point of view embody this principle in every encounter.
A teachable point of view has the potential to change the way a student-athlete perceives an event, a topic, an issue, an idea, an incident and – most importantly – the way they perceive themselves.
A teachable point of view has three components that merge together to articulate a worthwhile life lesson. Coaches who have mastered a teachable point of view are able to unleash the fundamental forces for transforming student-athletes. The essence of a teachable point of view is that it:
- has the purpose of helping the student-athlete face reality and to inspire him or her to make a change.
- has the capacity, over time, to change one’s mindset.
- embodies their values and is evident in their actions. They clearly articulate “what values do we stand for” and ensure that their actions reinforce these values in others.
A single coach with a teachable point of view brings the laboratory of learning that is the playing field alive. Their lessons transcend the game as they transform their players. Following is a real-life example:
In the 2006 movie Forever Strong, a young student-athlete is living a life common to kids his age. He enjoys playing rugby but equally – if not more so – finds the allure of partying too much to resist. The talented but troubled teen has his reality interrupted as a result of an accident from drinking and driving. Sent by a judge to a youth correctional institution in Salt Lake City, the student-athlete encounters an administrator whose life was impacted by his experience playing for the Highland rugby team coached by Larry Gelwix, a gifted and passionate teacher. The administrator arranges for the troubled young man to play for his old coach.
As the story unfolds the young athlete learns what it means to be a champion – Highland has won 19 national championships. He learns what it means to be a member of a team. He learns about himself and how each interpersonal interaction affects others.
This is what Highland rugby is about. Love the game. Love your team. Love your teammates. Work hard and work smart. Never settle for second best. (Source: the Highland rugby Web site www.highlandrugby.net.)
Coach Larry Gelwix views his position as a teacher of young men, helping to shape who they become. Gelwix has carefully crafted a teachable point of view and his messages are never clothed in wins or losses. They are intended to influence a life for a lifetime. The fleeting emotion tied to a momentary win or a loss can deceive the learner. Gelwix’s teachable point of view is that the process of transformation requires personal commitment and the willingness to persevere.
Coach Gelwix often reminds the team, “There are only two pains in life – the pain of hard work and the pain of regret. One is hard, it pushes you, stretches you; but in the end, we are grateful for it because it makes us a better person. This is the pain of hard work. The other, the pain of regret, may sometimes never go away.”
You will know you are an inspiring leadership educator when the student-athletes who come into your care emerge as different people. As Gelwix demonstrates, his lessons are essential for the well-being of his players, reshaping not only who they are but who they become. How will your student-athletes be different as a result of playing for you? Will they be different? To inspire through a teachable point of view you will need to address these important questions.
Many Highland rugby alumni credit their experience as one of the defining moments in their lives. The lessons of life, hard work, commitment, sacrifice, “never, never, never give up” as instrumental in shaping their lives and careers.
Gelwix’s success as a leader depends less on his position or personality than on the quality of his thought and capacity to teach. His lessons last a lifetime. As a coach with a teachable point of view, he has extended his reach into the future of each of his players. His thoughtful teachings are part of them for the rest of their lives.
“The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He thought it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn’t see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.”
About the Author: Cory Dobbs, Ed.D., is founder and president of The Academy for Sport Leadership in Peoria, Arizona. Dobbs is a former basketball coach at the high school, junior college and college levels. For more information on The Academy for Sport Leadership, visit the Web site at www.sportleadership.com.