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July 6, 2017 • Athletic AdministrationCoachingTop Story

The seven ‘Cs’ of a successful athletic program

At this year’s National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) conference in East Peoria, Illinois, CMAA Doug Smith presented his seven Cs for coaching. The lesson was a good reminder of the critical ingredients necessary to establish a successful athletic program.

Smith has been a member of the Illinois Athletic Directors Association for more than 30 years and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2015. Here are his thoughts on what it takes to build a strong program foundation.

1. Culture. This drives your habits, expectations and beliefs. Everyone must know and believe in your vision and, as a coach, you must reinforce it and build on it. “Focus on the root; not the fruit,” Smith said.

As Jon Gordon notes in his book “The Energy Bus,” there are no energy vampires allowed on your team. Coaches cannot spend time on them, and the positive energy must be greater than the negative energy.

Always be prepared for Murphy’s Law. Don’t be scared of adversity; face it and keep moving forward.

2. Contagious. Share your vision with others and get them involved — it creates buy-in. Establish a “no complaining” policy, allowing only solutions to the problems that might confront your program. 

“Leadership is a transfer of purpose,” Smith said. “Attitudes are contagious; is yours worth catching?”

3. Consistent. If you are not consistent, you lose trust and you risk losing the locker room. NFL coach Jack Del Rio said, “You have to have a consistent routine that prepared you to be great.”

Win or lose, you have to be the same. Let go of the past, and don’t rest on your laurels. Stay humble and hungry. “Tradition is like a season ticket — you must renew it each year or you will lose your seat,” Smith said. 

4. Communicate. When there is a void in communication, negativity fills it in. Fill the void with great communication. “Collaboration and communication are keys to success,” Smith said. 

Communicate frequently with the team — collectively and individually. Listen to what players say, and take the temperature of your program daily.

5. Connect. Xs and Os are overrated. When team members are connected, they don’t work with each other but for each other. Stay connected with those in your program, and never assume that relationships are strong.

“Team beats talent when talent isn’t a team,” Smith said.

6. Commitment. You must be first before everyone else buys in. Never be late — practices, team meetings, workouts — and demonstrate through your actions. Ask your players to write down one word that defines their role on the team, and ask that they represent its meaning for the duration of the season. “Intent reveals desire, action involves commitment,” Smith said.

There is no room for egos, and the team must always come first.

7. Care. Create a culture of caring, not just for football and not only for varsity players. You must value each as a person and not just a number.

Surround yourself with people who care. “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community,” Smith said.

Doug Smith, CMAA, was an athletic director at Monmouth, Woodstock and Naperville North high schools in Illinois. He was inducted into the Illinois Athletic Directors Association’s Hall of Fame in 2015.


2 thoughts on “The seven ‘Cs’ of a successful athletic program”

  1. This was a great message for the coaches at the NHSACA convention. We need more education like this for coaches!

  2. Very Good with the C’s. Culture is a the core of great programs and must be tended to daily, if not hourly. Great Leadership cultivates culture. Leaders understand and promote daily the #4ForLife that we all can control….Focus, Attitude, Preparation and Effort. We all talk Communication which I believe is now left to Leaders. Social Media has certainly hurt communication! Leaders and #LeadTeams must find ways to bring back solid, positive communication. Everyone matters with the passion of life pumped into top notch cultures. Best of Luck to All!

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