Author: Pete Van Mullem

What Three Coaches Taught Me About Teaching

Learning how to teach is an ongoing process. Often teachers receive formal training in pedagogical methods while attending an educational institution. They then continue to develop their teaching talents through a variety of methods, including discussion with teachers, resources on best practice (i.e. books, videos, websites), observation of teaching styles, and hands-on experience (Cassidy, Jones, & Potrac, 2016).

Pete Carroll

In the world of athletics, coaches are teachers. The playing field is the classroom for instruction, where coaches teach technical and tactical skills (Martens, 2012). Interestingly, the process of becoming a coach does not always provide much training on how to teach. Coaches are left to learn on the job, frequently through trial and error (Van Mullem & Van Mullem, 2014).

When I accepted my first college teaching position, the only knowledge I had about how to teach came from my own classroom experiences as a student and working as an assistant coach. Having to learn on the job, I began to grasp that many of the same principles I had been using as a coach applied in the classroom. I also began to appreciate some of the lessons about teaching I gleaned from working with great teachers of sport. In this essay, I’m going to share three lessons I learned from coaches on how to work with and teach students. They include: 1) caring, 2) being consistent, and 3) believing in people.

A Master Teacher’s Influence Never Ends

The 3rd Annual Dr. Bob Frederick Sport Leadership Lecture Series took place on the campus of Lewis-Clark State College this past October. I started the series in 2013 to help students gain insight from leaders in the sport industry, and provide a glimpse into the number of career opportunities available to them. In three years, 44 presenters from sport-related fields including: interscholastic sport, intercollegiate sport, professional sport, collegiate sport recreation, municipal recreation, education, outdoor recreation, sport business, and sport governance, have kindly given their time and knowledge to the series.

Jump Rope

As I walked one of this year’s speakers, Dr. Mike Kinziger back to his car I asked him about his invention, the KINZI. The KINZI is a group jump rope where up to 40 people can play at one time. During his presentation, Dr. Kinziger mentioned that he had a prototype of the KINZI in his car and I was curious what it looked like. When we reached his car, he unloaded a long rope with a handle on one end. As I was asking him about how the KINZI worked and the type of games one could incorporate with it, he immediately seated himself in the middle of the parking lot. Using his body as the base, he began to swing the rope in a giant circle. A slightly amusing scene ensued as he looked up at me from the asphalt and shouted, “Start jumping.” Carrying a backpack, a stack of handouts, and wearing dress shoes I immediately began jumping to avoid tripping on the swinging rope.

When inviting speakers for the lecture series I often try to find professionals that have the ability to reflect on a lifetime of work and share that perspective with the audience. As a presenter, Dr. Kinziger had many experiences to draw from. He taught and coordinated outdoor leadership for 17 years as an associate professor in recreation at the University of Idaho. He led over 100 wilderness trips, holds six long distance canoe records, and has done numerous solo canoe adventures. In his retirement he reflected on years of teaching and wrote King Frog, a book containing more than 100 established group games.

A Coach’s Legacy Captured in Words

This past spring, Ottawa University (KS) Men’s Basketball Coach Andy Carrier announced his retirement. During his 25-year career, Coach Carrier led the Braves to five National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II national tournament appearances, one NAIA District 10 championship, three Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) championships and three KCAC Tournament championships (Peterson, 2015). In addition he was inducted into the Ottawa University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011 and received numerous coach of the year awards throughout his career (Sell, 2015).

Having spent three seasons with Coach Carrier as his assistant coach, I was struck by the social media posts surrounding his retirement announcement. In a moment of reflection former student-athletes took to Twitter, sharing recollections of playing for Coach Carrier. In scrolling through the tweets familiar phrases Coach Carrier often used during his interactions with student-athletes appeared.

“That and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee.”
“Help someone get what they want and you will get what you want.”
“It’s better to beat a Blue Jay, than to be a Blue Jay.”

The Master Teacher: A Lesson in Learning from Coach K

In late January, Duke University Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) reached a significant career milestone, becoming the first NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Coach to reach 1,000 wins. Attainment of 1,000 wins is a remarkable accomplishment only achieved by a handful of collegiate coaches.

Harry Statham, who has coached at Division II McKendree (Lebanon, Illinois) since 1967, tops the 1,000-win list with 1,085. Danny Miles, at Oregon Tech (NAIA), is second with 1,016. Krzyzewski is next, with Herb Magee of Philadelphia University (Division II) at 998. In women’s basketball, retired Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is the all-time leader with 1,098 victories. Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer is second with 929 wins…The all-time leader for victories at any level of college basketball is 79-year-old Gene Bess, who is in his 45th season at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and has a 1,203-350 record (Marcus, 2015).

Maybe more remarkable than the sheer number of wins is Coach K’s unrelenting quest for excellence and mastery as a coach. In coaching circles, Coach K is considered a master teacher (Wielgus, 2014). A master teacher is defined as someone that has acquired an expert level of subject knowledge and demonstrates effectiveness in sharing this information with his or her students (Kreber, 2002). As a teacher of sport, the coach acquires knowledge in skill development, game strategy, rules of the sport, etc. Through education, experience, and deliberate practice they can become more effective in their ability to teach the student-athlete (Schempp, McCullick, & Mason, 2006).

The UNC Academic Scandal: The Power of a Coach

When reflecting on a 38 year career in coaching, the late Hall of Fame basketball coach, Don Meyer stated, “…I love to see how a team can improve and kids improve…And that is why I coach.  I mean, there’s nothing better than that.  It just eats you up inside how lucky you can be to coach” (Olney, 2010, p. 141). Although Meyer was respected nationally for his knowledge of the game and willingness to share amongst his colleagues, the influence he had on the lives of his players is worth noting.  Steve Smiley, a player for Meyer at Northern State University in South Dakota, commented on the impact Coach Meyer had on his life off the court (Smiley, 2005).


…I knew that my experience as a basketball player at Northern would serve me in every area of my life, simply because I was blessed to be around Coach Meyer and learn his life lessons for five years.  He taught me how to completely engross myself in the team concept and worry about other people, instead of putting the emphasis on myself.  I will forever be indebted to Coach Meyer… (p.190-191).