Wisdom for Coaches From Maya Angelou

By Stephanie Zonars

Sports pages these days are littered with stories of coaches being investigated and even sued for various forms of mistreatment of their athletes.

On the one hand, many think the flurry of accusations come from a generation of athletes who can’t handle demanding coaching because they are used to being coddled.

On the other hand, there are coaches who use degrading language and tactics in an effort to motivate athletes to excel.

It’s a complex issue with many points to consider.

But in the end, it seems we all need to learn and grow.

Athletes need to learn to anchor their worth in something other than their sport in order to better handle being challenged by coaches to achieve more than they think is possible.

And coaches need to learn how to motivate athletes past their self-imposed limits without demeaning their humanity.

I’ve heard this kind of coaching described as “coaching the heart behind the jersey.”

What does it look like?

A prime example took place during the 2015 football season.

Georgia and Missouri were battling, the score tied 6-6 late in the game.

Kicker Marshall Morgan missed a 26-yard field goal on Georgia’s possession with 5:40 left. You can imagine his disappointment.

But then, with 1:44 remaining, came a chance for redemption! A field goal would keep Georgia in the race for the SEC East title.

At that time, Mark Richt was the coach at Georgia. What he said to Marshall right before the 34-yard attempt was a perfect example of coaching the heart.


Rather than using fear or some other harsh tactic, Coach Richt motivated with love.

Marshall nailed the kick and the Bulldogs won the game!

Reminds me of this excerpt from my latest book: Wisdom for the BusyCoach—Volume Two:

The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise. —Maya Angelou [Tweet That!]

You wouldn’t be in the profession if you weren’t reaching for the stars, BusyCoach! All the external measurements of success—wins, championships, graduation rates—are worth reaching for and satisfying to achieve. There’s certainly nothing wrong with those ambitions!

Even more gratifying though is reaching the heart of your players. To focus not only on the results you believe they can achieve, but also on their personal growth and development. Loving them where they are, extending grace when they mess up and speaking truth when they need to be held accountable. This is what will reach their hearts.

What will you do to reach their hearts this week?

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.  —Proverbs 20:5 (NIV)

Click here to order your copy of Wisdom for the BusyCoach—Volume Two. 

Wisdom for Coaches From Maya Angelou appeared first on Life Beyond Sport.

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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at LifeBeyondSport.com.

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