There were six teacher-coaches who left an enduring impression on me during my undergraduate years at Indiana University (IU), Bloomington (graduated 1979). I took classes each of them taught, and observed and learned from them as coaches. The only way to describe these people is the best-of-the-best.
Here are their brief bios and six health & wellness program tips from me inspired by them, along with a short story on each person:
1. James “Doc” Counsilman: Swimming, won six consecutive NCAA Division I Championships. Olympic Coach 1964 (Tokyo) and 1976 (Montreal), coach of Mark Spitz both at IU and in the Olympics (seven gold medals). Doc was the first to use underwater video to improve a swimmer’s technique. Doc swam the English Channel at age 58. Coached at IU from 1957 to 1990.
Tip − Visualize. I often feel that a general tip, like “get more streamlined in the water,” pulls all the correct techniques together without the swimmer needing to think about each adjustment. Give people a vision, and they’ll find it easier to incorporate all the skills necessary to achieve that vision.
Story: About dealing with athletes’ parents, Doc once said, “the best coaching job in America would be at an orphanage.” There was also a time Coach Knight (basketball) asked Doc to help an IU basketball player improve his vertical jump. Knight told Doc the guy’s vertical jump was about one inch high. Doc said when he got through helping the basketball player, Knight complained the guy’s vertical jump was only 3 inches high. But Doc pointed out that was a 300% improvement!
2. Sam Bell: Track & Field, Olympic Assistant Coach 1976 (Tokyo). He coached 90 Hoosier All-Americans, including seven who went on to be Olympians. Coached at IU from 1970 to 1998.
Tip − Prepare and Work Together. Keep up on your strength training, always use dynamic stretching before intense effort, cool down gradually, change tempos, and pace one another. It’s OK to have high expectations of improvement from every level. Ease people into it, keep it interesting, and get everyone moving together.
Story: Jim Spivey was a sub-four minute mile runner at IU under Coach Bell. From ground level, a sub-four minute run looks like an average person’s all-out sprint speed, but held for the entire mile. I remember thinking the athletes seemed like human muscle cars.
3. Jerry Yeagley: Soccer, won six NCAA Division I titles from 1973 (when soccer became a varsity sport) to 2003. The all-time winningest coach in college soccer with 544 wins.
Tip − Attack and Defend as a Team. Don’t focus so much on calories, health risks, biometrics, and caloric intake. Instead, think about broader strategies. Play to your strengths, and use your field-of-play (community) to maximum capacity. Think about the best way to get everyone playing a role in building a healthful culture.
Story: Coach Yeagley may be one of the greatest coaches of any sport. We shared a locker room with his team. But my memory of him was that you would think he was the towel guy if you didn’t know him. He led by example, and the players revered him. The last thing IU’s soccer players were going to do is let their coach down.
4. Bob Knight: Basketball, won three NCAA Division I titles. Olympic Coach 1984 (Los Angeles). Won 902 NCAA games, the third all-time best in collegiate basketball. Coached at IU from 1971 to 2000.
Tip − Get Realistic. Quit being Mr. or Ms. Sunshine. Wake up and start preparing for all kinds of things to go wrong. And don’t come whining to me about “lack of engagement.” Get your @#%* out there and engage yourself. Be prepared to overcome every obstacle to success you can imagine. Use a disciplined, moving strategy that can keep everyone in the game regardless of any conceivable set back. Prepare to improvise.
Story: Coach Knight would often critique the questions coming from the press. You may have heard this too because he often said this to reporters, “That’s the stupidest ass question I ever heard, next question!” Coach Knight had some colorful language, but most of the time he was clear in his communication.
5. Doug (Blu) Blubaugh: Wrestling, Doug was (himself) an NCAA Division I Champion (1957), Olympic Champion in 1960 (Rome), and named Most Valuable Wrestler in the world that year. He was the toughest person I ever knew (I wrestled for him at IU and then was his assistant coach 1980 – 82). He was considered one of the best wrestling clinicians of the sport. He coached at IU from 1972 to 1984.
Tip − Stay Close. A wrestler who gets inside control and presses doesn’t have to move far to penetrate. Get your fundamentals down, keep on the attack, and then use your resources efficiently. It’s often the smallest of things that can make the difference between scoring and not scoring. If you stay close to the action you’ll appear quick and agile, but you’ll just be close at the right time.
Story: Coach Blubaugh was an Oklahoma farmer. At a time when he was in his physical prime, he went out into the field to retrieve a horse. The horse would run 50 yards or so and not let Blu grab him. So Blu just decided he’d run after that horse until the horse gave up. That run went on for the next 13 hours. After that the horse never ran from him again. Anyone that knew Blu knows that to be a true story.
6. Lee Corso: Football, you may know him as the popular host of ESPN’s College GameDay program. He’s the guy who puts on the school mascot head based on who he thinks will win the football game. He led IU to a win in the Holiday Bowl (1979). He may be one of the funniest men I’ve ever met. He coached at IU from 1973 to 1982.
Tip − Respect the Media. The media is the most powerful organization on earth. Learn to tell a story, use humor to engage, maximize social media, and realize communication is your most important asset.
Story: Laughter is what follows Coach Corso around. He’s fun to be around. Everybody is happy to be in his company. Not only is he funny, but he’s smart as well. We all learned a lot from him, and not for one minute did it feel like work.
Coaches want people to achieve at the highest levels of human physical capacity. They critique weaknesses, encourage strengths, always push for improvements, and expect a lot from their athletes. It’s natural that we take lessons from the top coaches for our daily lives. Hopefully, you’ll find a gold nugget in the six tips they inspired in me for your program.
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Shawn is the President and Founder of Hope Health. For over 30 years, his work has focused on bringing clear, easy-to-read, and watch health messages to the public via workplaces. He bills himself as the “Best C+ Student in the Wellness Biz” because, as he says, “I like to challenge the notion that there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Shawn is on a mission to tie workplaces into their surrounding communities to share resources and ideas in an effort to improve the health of all Americans.
You may reach Shawn at sconnors@HopeHealth.com or 800-334-4094.