If you grew up playing sports, you have an idea of what a coach does. Typically he or she acts as your instructor, mentor, and resident expert in the sport you are playing. Oftentimes they teach technique and give young players a basic understanding of the rules of the game. They do their best to develop their players to prepare them to move forward to a higher level of competition.
So, what about the professionals? The select few players that reach the pros already have sound fundamentals, a clear understanding of the game, and an incredible amount of talent. So, you may ask yourself, what exactly do coaches do at the professional level?
A lot, actually. Professional coaches have a huge influence over the performance of a team. Franchises allocate so much time and money to a coaching search for a reason. If they land the right person for the job, it can do wonders for the outlook of their team.
But, what makes a coach good? Simply put, good coaches are better at effectively utilizing the resources available to them. There are many examples of both good and bad coaching at the professional level that illustrate this point.
In 2010, top pitching prospect Jake Arrieta made his major league debut with the Baltimore Orioles. Through four seasons with Baltimore, Arrieta posted a losing record with a 5.46 ERA. Then, after being traded to the Chicago Cubs, he seemed to transform into a different animal. He pitched two no-hitters, won the NL Cy Young Award, and helped anchor the staff of a World Championship team.
So, what happened? In reflecting on his time in Baltimore, Arrieta points to struggles with his pitching coach. He was being tinkered with, changing the very mechanics that got him to the Majors. When he arrived in Chicago, the coaches let him be himself. They let him do what made him comfortable and Arrieta became the best version of himself.
In the NFL, Chip Kelly proved to be an example of a bad head coach. In 2015, Kelly signed NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray, coming off a season in which he gained 1,845 yards with an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The very next season, under Kelly, Murray ran for a meager 702 yards, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry.
What did Kelly do wrong? Well, in short, he made poor use of his resources. Rather than letting Murray be the power back that made him successful, Kelly deployed him as an outside runner. After he was traded to the Tennessee Titans (for pennies on the dollar), he returned to putting up big numbers. Why? A coach who understands Murray’s playing style.
Being a good coach is about being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each and every player on the roster. Coaches such as Joe Maddon and Bill Belichick are so successful because they allow their players to be themselves. While bad coaches try to fit players into their system, good coaches create a system that fits their players.