Lessons from Military Leadership for Bettering Coaching by Zach Batcho

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[Zach Batcho is currently a Captain in the United States Army stationed with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY. He serves as an infantry officer and has two deployments to Afghanistan. He is both Ranger and Airborne qualifed. He is also a certified USA Track and Field Level 1 and 2 Coach, , holds a USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification, and a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach Ceritfication. Zach competed as a decathlete and sprinter for 4 years while attending college at the United States Military Academy.]

The pinnacle of being a leader is the ability to influence those you lead when you are not there. It is departing about character on others so they do what is right, not when no one else is looking, but they do what is right because it is right. Having influence in people’s lives is how a permanent culture can foster, whether it is a military unit or a track and field program. Influence is what allows me to trust when I send soldiers on mission and I am not there, that they will make moral decisions. It allows me to be confident that when I send soldiers to another unit, I know they will make that unit better. I found there to be at least three components of military leadership that can benefit a track team. These components can assist any coach in building a great team, culture, and kids that will be successful on and off the track.

The first component is discipline. In the movies, Army discipline is always depicted as pressed uniforms and perfectly made beds. Discipline is so much more than that in the Army. It is being able to do routine things sharply. An example is practicing the battle drills and tactics used in combat. Sharply executing routine tasks saves lives in combat. In the track, coaches can instill discipline starting with instilling a routine warm up and cool down regiment. There is a saying in the Army, “don’t expect what you don’t inspect”. A coach should be watching the whole practice making sure athletes execute the little things right. Outside of having focused practices provide the athletes with structure through rules and enforcement. Rules are great but without enforcement they are nothing. The Army may be the first structured environment that soldiers have been a part of in their life. That is likely true for some athletes. The discipline leaders impart helps in more than just sport or work; it benefits the athletes throughout their life. A disciplined environment gives the athletes pride in their team. (With this paragraph I would try to find a transition that ties the discipline piece you are getting at with the warm up / cool down and how leaders enforce that discipline IE enforcing good form on the basics)

Purpose, the second component that can create great teams. On mission, I get the best results when everyone on the team knows the why of the mission. Coaches need to communicate with their athletes the reasons behind the workouts. The communication and the reasons behind the plan gets the athletes to buy in to what the coach is trying to accomplish. When all athletes understand the purpose in training they feed off each other to continue to improve. Leaders need to have a purpose too. Aside from the over arching purpose of executing national policy the main reason I get up in the morning is to develop people. As a coach the purpose is no different, a coach has the potential to bestow true character on the youth in his/her care.

The last component is care. When soldiers know you care it drives them to bring their best to work everyday. I need to know what is going on in my soldiers’ lives because that greatly affects work. One example I have is, two years ago I had a soldier that was extremely close to his grandmother and she was about to die. He really wanted to see her before she died but the unit was on a ten-day training exercise. Army regulations said I was not supposed to let him miss the training to go but I went out of my way to get him home. At the time I didn’t think much of it other than it was the right thing to do. Over the following months he became my best soldier because I showed him I cared about him. What I thought was a small thing made a huge impact in his life. Coaches need to be involved in their athletes’ lives. When people know you truly care about them they will give you everything they have.

When a coach creates a disciplined team, with members that know he/she cares about their well being, and gives them purpose; a culture that will last begins to form.

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