Tom Thibodeau, Coaching Evaluations and A Blueprint for Coach Improvement

In reading the reports that Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls are possibly breaking up their relationship, it brought to mind my experiences with coach evaluations. The NBA level is unique when it comes to coaching evaluation. In the NBA the coaching evaluation is largely about winning. This is probably true of NCAA D1 athletics too. People can say what they want in the media but when it comes to business, winning and making a profit matter most.

What makes the Thibodeau situation interesting is that he has won. He has won close to 65% of his games. Given the injuries and roster changes the Bulls have had over his tenure it would seem that he is more than a competent coach and should be evaluated positively.

Of active NBA coaches he ranks 4th in win percentage behind Steve Kerr (.817), Doc Rivers (.689) and Gregg Popovich (.685). That would seem like pretty good company and makes me wonder who would be better? The disconnect with management (the reason for the reported problems) appears to trump his success. Another issue is his playoff record where I know the Bulls, and Thibodeau, expect more success.

My argument then is that coaching evaluations at the NBA and big money collegiate athletics level do not apply as easily to the rest of us that coach at lower levels. At least I assume most of us are not 100% evaluated by wins or revenue generation.

So what should make up a coaching evaluation, and how can that coaching evaluation act as a blueprint for coach improvement?

For these answers I turned to a webinar from Human Kinetics featuring Dr. David Hoch. Not surprisingly he supports my view that there are differences between professional-level sports and education-based sports. He believes this difference exist because of the financial value of winning for franchises and universities, and the job security that comes with winning for the coach. He argues this perspective is often lost on fans, parents, players, coaches and administrators who tend to look at a coach’s evaluation at an education-based level the same way.

The webinar  titled ‘Conducting Coaching Evaluations working Education-based Athletics’ outlined some ideas that I have summarized below to help us understand how we are evaluated as coaches.

Summary Points from Dr. Hoch

How should coaches be evaluated?

  • He believes coaches should be evaluated based on a student-centered philosophy that involves educational and life-long values.
  • Winning should not be the only, or ultimate outcome.
  • Life-long lessons like perseverance, teamwork, sportsmanship should be the desired outcomes.
  • Since coaches have a direct impact on these outcomes, through teachable moments and an emphasis on community service, he feels coaches should be evaluated based on their success in these areas.

Coaches should be evaluated, not based on, or solely based on, winning:

  • Coaches should prepare and strive to have their players win.
  • Hoch suggest winning is based on athletic ability, luck, a lack of injuries, a realistic schedule and coaching.
  • He tells a story about a coach that went 3-24 and did the best coaching job of anyone in the country by winning three games with the team they had.

“In algebra class do teachers yell at students if they don’t get a concept?”

So how do you evaluate a coach? He argues these five things should be used to evaluate:

coaching evaluation

The purpose of the evaluation process should be to help the coach improve:

  • It should be a blueprint for helping the coach grow and develop, not a method of deciding their job status. It should not be a threat.
  • Evaluation is a process and not an instrument. It is not just a form. An evaluation should go beyond filling out a form.
  • When observing practices Dr. Hoch suggests you look for positives only, as the negatives will fall in your lap.
  • He recommends as an administrator and coach that you document everything and date it for future reference.
  • Self-evaluation question he asks of all coaches: Tell me some things you have done for your team and our program that I may not know about.
  • If a coach needs remediation give them specific recommendations to improve and suggests specific courses they need to take to continue coaching.
  • He feels that one of the best ways to develop as a coach is to shadow a successful coach for a week, following them around and attending their practices and coaching sessions.

Meeting Tip

When meeting with a challenging coach, create a script for the meeting and a give them a copy. This keeps them from deviating from the topics. If they raise new issues tell them you will make note of it and can discuss at a future time. It is important you stay on script to achieve the purpose the meeting was originally intended for.

Coach Oliver Note: This is a great tip for coaches. Sticking to the meeting agenda ensures you are prepared and that emotion is minimized. I have found when players start going on tangents in one-on-one meetings they are just fishing for a reaction that supports their argument. Apply this concept to meetings with players and parents so that you accomplish the objective of the meeting in an efficient and effective manner.

My Main Takeaway

The end result is that coaches can be good for a team or program regardless of their win-loss record. This perspective is not just necessary for administrators to remember, but also coaches that are inherently competitive. Such a perspective would focus the coach more on the process than the outcome. As a coach I value checks and balances that come with evaluations and feedback from administrators and mentors. The coaching evaluation process keeps me focused on improvement and when done properly motivate me to examine my coaching more intently.

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