It has been 20 years since I wrestled for Dan Gable. I still remember the question reporters, family, friends and strangers used to ask most about him …
“What makes Dan Gable such a great coach?”
The most likely responses have always been …
- “His intensity. He is just soo intense!”
- “His drive… He is soo driven”
- “He knows how to get through to each individual athlete”
These are all true, but they really don’t give you much insight if you’re trying to be a great coach yourself.
I remember, I would give the same types of answers and then I would think to myself “that was stupid… you gave absolutely no insight with that answer”.
So then I would try to explain it to people and I couldn’t quite put it into words as eloquently or accurately as it should be until……
I coached myself, for over 15 years.
I then had a chance to talk with Coach Gable and really pick his brain on his philosophies.
All of the sudden I could relate my own experiences and the philosophies I had developed and implemented over the years.
So now when people ask me, I feel I have a straightforward, clear and precise answer.
But now I get one of three reactions…
- They give me a glassed over look because they have never been a coach or just think they’re a coach and they don’t understand what I’m talking about or just wanted a superficial answer.
- They look at me in, what seems to be disgust, because they do get it and they realize it’s a lot of work (there is no magic formula).
- They lock in on me with laser focus, their hairs stand up and they get excited because it just clicked. They know it will take work and planning but they also know it will produce results and make a real difference and they get excited to get to work.
Okay, so let me give you my analysis of why Dan Gable was, quite possibly, the best coach ever to walk the planet.
Obviously, he knew the X’s and O’s. He also knew the key to skill development was simplicity, focus and dedication. He wasn’t concerned with his wrestlers knowing a million moves. But you better know your basics, how to score points and how to relentlessly impose your style on your opponent.
Which leads me to the important stuff…
Coach Gable’s Game Changers:
- You had to work on building mental toughness EVERY day
- Practice was where you got THE MOST work done… So be prepared!
- In order to get the most work done in practice you had to KNOW YOUR SUBJECTS… (Get It?)
- Mental toughness would come to each athlete, but you never know how long it will take… But it will come!
Now, I want you to sit back and truly take these in…
Next, I want you to think about the sophistication, blind faith, dedication and work ethic it would take to truly execute this.
He was trying to get roughly 30 young men in college to understand and buy-in to the lifestyle and training it took to execute the most aggressive and demanding style in the toughest sport on the planet.
This is why recruiting the mind was far more important than recruiting the accolades, but this is a whole other topic.
What truly separated him wasn’t his philosophies, most wouldn’t disagree with his philosophies and beliefs. Rather it was his attention to detail and relentless drive to get to know each of his athletes, what “made them tick” and then provide them with what they needed to succeed, until they got it.
Gable obviously had a gift for reading his athletes and knowing how to push their buttons in the right way, but if you think this was all natural, then you’re wrong. He constantly studied and read about psychology of athletes, the best training methods and anything else that could give him more insight into how to best develop his athletes.
He spent time talking with athletes outside the practice room. He talked with their families and friends. He was always trying to get to know his athletes better. He was always trying to see the big picture and really understand what made his athlete tick.
Most coaches study the “X’s” and “O’s” and that is important. Not as many study how to get through to their athletes. Even less take the time Gable did to get to know each of them…
…and even fewer have the patience, drive and faith to not, in some way, give up on their athlete and continue to strive to give them what they need until it finally clicks.
So next time an athlete doesn’t do things the way you want or falls short…
…think about how well you know that athlete and how you can best get through to them.
Don’t adopt the attitude that most do… where you say “I’ve told them not to do that” and then move on. Rather think about how to get through to them in a way that will last…
…and understand, it may take some research, it probably won’t happen right then and actually you can never be sure when it will click but just have the “Gable Faith” that IT WILL happen.