Coaches are humans and they come preloaded with differing viewpoints on how to do the job. Demeanors are different. Personalities vary. Coaches have different opinions on what should be prioritized. That’s ok! There is room for many coaching styles.  

One of the differences in coaching styles is whether a coach is more internally focused or more externally focused. In this piece we’ll explain both and offer the differing viewpoints. I’d ask readers to ask themselves which of these they are more of. 

Internal Focus

To paint a clearer picture we’ll use extreme traits of each style. A coach with an extreme internal focus has a crystal clear vision of how they want their teams to play. That vision comes from within, or internal. The focus of their teaching is internal and based on internal beliefs. They view practice time as a tool to prepare their teams to play a certain and specific way. Their goal is perfecting this style of play and to do so they have likely setup a developmental pathway to bring it to life. 

For example, a team that always plays a certain defense or runs a certain offense year after year, game after game likely has a coach with more of an internal focus. To them, coaching is about simplicity and execution. It’s about playing “our” way. “Do what we do well” as the cliché goes. 

They likely have a way of defending actions that does not vary much or at all game to game. They may always hedge ball screens, for example. They may always run “motion” no matter who they are playing. They believe that the depth of knowledge that this consistency allows for gives them an edge.  

For the internally focused coach there may be a lower reliance on scouting opponents. After all, we’re not going to do much adjusting to our opponents since opponents are an external factor. There is little customization of game plans. Games are an opportunity to put their system to the test. If they execute it well, they’ll win. If they don’t, back to work tomorrow on getting better at it for the next contest. The focus in on us. It’s internal and it’s about doing what we do better. 

External Focus

The externally focused coach has a different outlook. They would think the internally focused coach is crazy! After all, every game is different. Every opponent presents a unique challenge. The next opposing coach employs specific strategies. Every opposing player has different strengths and weaknesses.

If “win the next game” is the commandment and every game is different, then the externally focused coach approaches each game as a different puzzle to solve with different tactics. They do not have strong opinion about how the sport should be played. They’ll roll out any strategy they think will give them a chance. 

Versus some opponents they plan man-to-man. Against some others they roll out a 2-3 Zone. Because of the talent and skills of a particular player they decide to defend actions one way on one night and another the next night. 

Game plans are bespoke for each event. There is a higher reliance on scouting. Fast one night, slow the next. Zone one night, man the next. Perhaps we roll out a junk defense. We are closing out on this player one way and his or her teammate another. We are exploiting this mismatch tonight, and perhaps another one in our next contest. What drives the decisions behind the tactics and game plans we roll out? What decides what offense or defense we’ll use? Our opponents (external factor) and their unique characteristics. 

There’s a Spectrum…

As stated, I am painting a picture of the extreme ends of the spectrum. Your coaching style may fall somewhere in between. 

You may lean more towards one end with a touch of the other or somewhere closer to the middle. This is not a binary thing. 

I was speaking recently with a RAMP Member in a 1:1 session about the tug-of-war that exists between these two extremes. It is a difficult thing to balance. We were working through the pros and cons of these two coaching styles. I mentioned to him and would also mention here that neither of them is “right” or superior to the other. Neither is inferior. They just come with different ramifications. 

Further, there are examples of great coaches with lots of career accomplishments from either end of this spectrum. It would be difficult for someone who was far to one end of the spectrum to adopt the behaviors of a coach on the other end – that’s ok! Styles make fights and the best fighters win the respect of the other person in the ring by being unapologetically themselves. 

That being said, if you feel the need to move along the spectrum toward one end or the other even just a little bit, the benefits are there. Perhaps you feel the pull to become a little more malleable. Perhaps you feel more of a need to dictate instead of respond. Either way we are here to help!

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