Talkin' with Trav: The difference between a good coach and a great one

By Travis Hansen

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 18 2012 9:00 a.m. MST

While I was home in Utah recovering from my Achilles injury, I got word that Duda had retired and Dynamo had signed another famous coach named Pesic. He went by one name because he is the kind of guy that only needs one name. He was also a legendary coach, but unlike Duda he was legendary for being tough, hard-nosed and for demanding perfection from his players.

The first day I met him he walked up to me at our first practice in Dynamo’s gym and said, “You should fire your doctors and coaches in Utah because your face is fat and you look out of shape.” I instantly thought this guy was a piece of work. That was not the greeting I expected after recovering in record time from a serious injury.

Pesic gave off negative energy, was always tense, was demeaning to the players and other coaches, and wasn’t the kind of guy you would invite over for dinner.

All coaches are different. Some are good and a few are great. Pesic was good, Duda was great.

So what is the difference between good coaches and great coaches?

A great coach looks at you and sees not your failings, liabilities, weaknesses but rather what you were born to be and what you are capable of achieving. Great coaches are people who have cultivated that posture of believing in and seeing the best in others — because when someone believes in us, we find ourselves doing things even we didn’t believe we could.

Coaching is the art of drawing things out of people; and it’s hard to draw out of others if you haven’t dug your own well and learned to draw deeply from it.

Great coaches are people who help others live life at a higher level.

Former NFL coach Tom Landry once said, “A great coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”

I have been fortunate to play for some good coaches and a few great ones.

My high school coach Rob Cuff, a phenomenal coach, said, “A great coach is able to distinguish important from unimportant issues, they respond using less rational thought and more instinct and intuition, and finally, they feel a strong responsibility for the successes and failures of their players.”

The difference between a good coach and a great coach can be delicately complex.

A screamer and yeller can be a good coach, or the worst kind in the world. Ego is a two-edged sword.

Great coaches know that players have to trust that the coaches care about them, their career, their families, and their life.

BYU basketball coach Dave Rose is a great coach. He has all the characteristics and intangibles of someone who can make you believe in yourself.

Last week I asked coach Rose, while we sat in his office in the Marriott Center, "What makes a great coach?"

He responded, “The involvement of your players in your life. Do your players just help you win and lose games? Or are your players people that you are 100 percent invested in? Great coaches really believe and care about seeing improvement in their players on the court, in the classroom, and in life. Great coaches really care about their players and the players know it.”

Rose continued, “I believe it is my job as a coach to get every player to believe that they think they are better than they think they are. They deserve that their coach believes in them and then the player has to live up to it and respond.”

Many coaches believe being the best of the best means having the best sports science, the most equipment, the best facilities and the most talented staff.

Others believe it is simply a matter of good luck, good timing and being able to buy the best athletes.

For the great ones, coaching is who they are — not what they do. It is their personality, their character, their ambition, their drive, their passion, their values and their soul. It is the air they breathe and it is every beat of their heart.

For a good coach, the task is a job, for a great coach, it is their life.

Coaching. Is it any different for a parent or a teacher?

The blueprint is the same, so is the treasure you try to mine.

Travis Hansen is a former BYU, NBA (Atlanta Hawks) and Euroleague basketball player. He co-founded the Little Heroes Foundation and is married with three children.

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