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Great Coaches Know Magic

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

Great coaches know magic. Pat Summit’s teams won eight NCAA national championships. In 38 years as a coach, she never had a losing season. When she ended her career, she had more wins than any other basketball coach – ever.

She understood how to use the magic of self-fulfilling prophecy, (SFP) her quotes show us that:

“I'm someone who will push you beyond all reasonable limits. Someone who will ask you not to just fulfill your potential but to exceed it. Someone who will expect more from you than you may believe you are capable of.”

John Wooden won 10 NCAA championships in a 12 year period: 7 consecutive ones – unmatchable.

Coach Wooden wrote several important books, but this quote may summarize much of how he viewed what he did:

“In the end, it’s about the teaching, and what I always loved about coaching was the practices. Not the games, not the tournaments, not the alumni stuff. But teaching the players during practice was what coaching was all about to me.”

Why might that have been? Let’s look at how these great coaches used the cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP)

This graphic demonstrates what we wrote about last week in our blog, Good Management Can Be Absolutely Magical.

Coaches, managers, and leaders always look for ways to create the best performance possible from the people and organizations with whom they work. On this graphic, that would be the “Our actions” location for the players, direct reports, and organizations.

The magic starts with the “others beliefs” place on the cycle. This is where the coach develops a belief about the player’s performance potential. This is the starting place, the “why”, the generator for the coach’s actions/behaviors toward the player. For high performance, the belief is positive. This is also the most potentially dangerous place on the cycle. If the coach develops a negative belief about the person’s performance for any reason, then the coach exhibits behaviors that communicate that belief.

The behavior is not just verbal expression, in fact, the non-verbals may be more important communication than the verbal aspects. All sorts of body language subconsciously communicate the underlying belief. In addition to tiny facial expressions such as how we make eye contact, how we raise eyebrows, move our mouth and lips to smile or frown, or even how we wrinkle our brow, everything adds so much impact to our vocal tone and choice of words. Recipients tend to absorb and believe the body language and vocal cues as strongly or sometimes more strongly than words.

Pat Summit’s quote demonstrates that she had beliefs that led her to push people beyond what their own limits appeared to be. She clearly used SFP to behave to show the player she expected more than they may have believed they were capable of.

Summit’s quote on attitude is a wonderful paraphrase of SFP. “What you think you can do, whether positive or negative, confident or scared, will most likely happen.” She understood how our beliefs about ourselves influence our actions, positively or negatively.

John Wooden’s quote about how he loved teaching shows that he found the application of SFP to be critical to his function as coach. This is where he could spend the time to focus on developing player skills and confidence. He could combine verbal and body language to help players develop positive beliefs about themselves and provide feedback and reinforcement for them. Yes, he was a gifted on-court general as well, but he clearly saw SFP and practice as the place where games were won.

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