Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Coaching, Sports–and Life: To Control or Not to Control?


In previous posts I have explained that when athletes try to control the game too much (using Kobe Bryant as an example), it not only adversely impacts their performance, but that of their teammates as well.   I have also explained how the best way to “lose” sports slumps is to lose control.

A more complex control issue concerns sports coaching.   After all, coaches are hired to “coach”—which is to say, teach, instruct, set rules, decide on strategies and the like, all of which are control based.

But when are coaches too domineering and what are the consequences?

In other words, when do coaches “over-coach” and what happens when say, they are too demanding, don’t delegate, take on too much, or don’t allow players some input and leeway.

This issue was just highlighted in an article by Gary Klein about the coaching practice of USC head football coach Lane Kiffin that appeared on the October 11, 2011 front page of the Sports Section of the LA Times.   The first sentence of the article reads,

“Lane Kiffin is not ready to let go.”

Kiffin doubles as the Trojan’s sole play-caller, which is an increasingly rare combination in major college football.   Why do most head coaches elect not to call plays?  Interestingly, Kiffin himself answers that best when he states,  “They (the coaches) can step back and look at the whole thing….”

Seeing the Forest from the Trees

I agree with Coach Kiffin.  In this blog and in Losing Control, Finding Serenity: How the Need to Control Hurts Us and How to Let It Go, I repeatedly emphasize how the intensity of our controlling actions puts “blinders” on us and we are unable to see the options and opportunities that are before us.    We are so focused on the trees, we can’t see the forest.   (Which by the way, applies equally to our work and creative endeavors).

Thus, when Kiffin focuses on play calling, it is difficult for him to concurrently follow the ebb and flow of the game or changes in momentum.

Letting Go Allows Players to Take Greater Responsibility


When coaches are willing to let go of some control, it allows the players to step up and take more responsibility for their performance.  This point was recently made by RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY) hockey coach Seth Appert (“Appert’s next step: letting go” by Pete Dougherty in when he stated,

“I run our program, but I want our seniors to run our team…. I think that is the next step for us—from going to a really good program to a great program and making the final step (winning the NCAA tournament).”

In evaluating his past pattern, Appert concludes, “Maybe some of it is I wasn’t ready to give up some of that control.”

I would also argue that letting go of some control in coaching frees players to more fully use their natural athletic instincts and talents.

What Kind of Coach are You?

You notice I didn’t say sports coach—just coach.   In varying ways, don’t we all coach our children?  Our mates? Our friends?

However, are you the kind of coach that tries to over-manage their lives?

If so, consider these likely consequences:

You hinder your children’s growth and independence. They don’t gain the wisdom and insights from making mistakes, nor the personal satisfaction and confidence that comes with doing things on their own.

You push your friends away. Most often, they just want you to listen, and not give them advice.

You obstruct intimacy with your spouse or partner. In matters of the heart, people don’t want to be told what they should do and how they should be.

To Coach or not to Coach? That is the Question!

Please share your thoughts, beliefs and experiences on this important subject by commenting below.

In the meantime, remember to,

Let It Go–and Accept “What Is!”


If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it on your Facebook page and share it with others.