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John Wooden, the American basketball coach who led the UCLA basketball teams to 10 NCAA championship wins in 12 seasons, said, “A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.” This saying has inspired many over the years.

Here, we look at some very interesting insights from 7 highly successful coaches who have created a great impact on their respective teams and the sport itself. Their thoughts, translated into sporting actions we have seen on the field, have created champions, legends and stories that movies are made for.

In no particular order of merit, here goes!

1. Sir Alex Ferguson

Start with the foundation

Known as one of the best coaches of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson has had a legendary run with football. His approach was to begin from the grassroots, begin young and develop true champions and ambassadors of the club. The vision he had shaped one of the most successful football clubs in history.

Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When Alex Ferguson started off in Manchester in 1986, he revamped the team’s approach and set out to find young footballers that showed potential… some as young as 9 years old.

David Beckham was one of his first recruits.

He explained, “I wanted to build right from the bottom. That was in order to create fluency and a continuity of supply to the first team. The players all grew up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit. . . . Winning a game is only a short-term gain. . . . Building a club brings stability and consistency.”

2. Gary Kirsten

All for one and one for all

The cricket coach under whose leadership India won the coveted and unforgettable 2011 World Cup, Gary Kirsten, remains one of the most loved coaches that the Indian cricket team has seen.

Reuters Photo

His approach was to establish a balance between the needs of the team versus the needs of the individual, especially considering the kind of stalwarts and individual superstars that cricket has produced. He said, “Coaches need to be able to successfully manage all different types of personalities so that each player has an opportunity to thrive. The coach is also trying to set a high performing team environment and has a responsibility for the success of the team and not only individuals.”

“Every new coach needs support from players who can drive the new culture or way of doing things. This can take time and to win these players over, requires trust, transparency and good connections. We expect too much from coaches in a short time,” he said.

3. Pat Summitt

Being competitive

An iconic female coach because of her contribution to the world of college sports, Pat Summitt has the record for being the “winningest” coach in men’s and women’s NCAA basketball history.

She had 1,098 career wins, 16 SEC titles and 8 National Championships.


In her book Reach for the Summitt (1998), one of the 12 principles that Pat Summitt outlined as the “Definite Dozen” that she implemented at the University of Tennessee was about being a competitor.

Pat Summitt once said, “You can’t always be the strongest or most talented or the most gifted person in the room, but you can be the most competitive.”

4. Mir Ranjan Negi

The unspoken bond

Known for his portrayal as Kabir Khan in the famous movie, Chak De India, Mir Ranjan Negi was actually hired as the goalkeeping coach of the Indian National Women’s Field Hockey Team that won Gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The achievement was special because this was considered to be an underdog team. A typical David versus Goliath plot.

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While this storyline is common across different levels of sport, this one in particular is special as it revived women’s hockey in India and took it to a whole new level.

As a former national team goalkeeper himself, having been through the tough loss at the 1982 Asian Games, his focus on the level of understanding between a player and the coach seem to have a great influence in his ways of coaching a team.

He says, “When I was the coach of the women’s team, one of the few things that I could say with conviction was that my team played for me. They listened to me. If my goalkeeper would look at me during a particularly tight situation on the field, we could wordlessly communicate, and I could still guide her through- that’s how much we used to be on the same page. That’s one of the things Chak De India got right about me. Jokes apart, that is the level of understanding and bonding that you need to have between a player and a coach.”


Tactical & psychological preparation

Three-time Premier League champion, Jose Mourinho is known for his tactical acumen, his ability to unite the team and appeal to each player individually on the psychological level.

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It is said that while he was managing Chelsea, he told Frank Lampard that Lampard was probably the best player in the world. But in order to prove this to people, he would have to win championships. This is believed to have resonated strongly with Lampard and fuelled his desire to win.

In his biography, “Made in Portugal”, he talks about the early years of his career.

He mentions an interesting detail that he used to practice with just 10 players on the field during his training sessions. This was to be prepared in case the team received a red card during a crucial game and was forced to handle the pressure on the field of playing with one man down.


Building players from the ground up

While Arsene Wenger managed a professional football club for 22 years as its longest serving and most successful manager, he had a strong perspective on developing football with focus on the grassroots level.

Photograph by Shaun Botterill / Getty

When he appeared on The Cesc Fabregas Show (2008), he spoke about his thought process on how football player should be approached, starting with a strong foundation at the youth football level.

“You build a player like you build a house. The basis of the player is the technique, and you get that between seven and 14 years of age. If you have no technical skill at 14, you will never be a football player. Then the first floor is the physical aspect, unfortunately that is decided between 14 and 17, where you see if they will be quick enough and strong enough.

"The second floor is the tactical aspect; does he understand the game? How can I relate to you if you have the ball, do I understand where to go? Then the final part that is decided at 18 or 19 years of age is ‘How much do I want to be successful?’. ‘Am I ready not to go to the disco on Friday night because I want to have a good game on Saturday? That’s what I call the roof, and if you have no roof, it rains in.”


Let each player discover his own destiny

Phil Jackson is considered to be one of the most successful coaches in NBA history. He coached his teams to a record 11 NBA titles and has been a successful NBA player himself in his early years.

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His unconventional approach towards the game was driven by his belief in eastern philosophy and Native American mysticism.

He believed in enabling his players to think for themselves so that they were empowered enough to make split-second decisions on the court in the heat of the game.

He said, "My approach was always to relate to each player as a whole person, not just a cog in the basketball machine. That meant pushing him to discover what distinct qualities he could bring to the game beyond taking shots and making passes. How much courage did he have? Or resilience? What about character under fire? Many players I've coached didn't look special on paper, but in the process of creating a role for themselves they grew into formidable champions."

If you had the opportunity to ask a question to any of these coaches, what would it be?

Comment to let us know!


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