Worst to First: Turnaround Leadership Through the Lens of Successful High School Football Coaches

in International Sport Coaching Journal
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  • 1 Adrian College
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Turnaround leadership is a topic of particular interest within sports, as newly hired coaches are often expected to transform struggling teams into “winners.” The present study qualitatively examined American high school football coaches (N = 11) who led a dramatic turnaround within their school’s football program. After being hired, these participants experienced relatively quick success, as they achieved a winning record (M = 1.73 years) and reached the state playoffs within a short period of time (M = 1.82 years). Steps of the turnaround process included assembling a staff of quality assistants, creating a vision for program success, formulating a strong plan that supported the vision, generating buy-in from players and key members of the program, creating and celebrating early achievements, sustaining success through the establishment of new goals and benchmarks, and fighting the urge to become complacent once new levels of success were reached (i.e., making change stick). As a part of their coaching turnarounds, all of the participants talked about the importance of incorporating a quality strength and conditioning program into their team’s training regimen. Meanwhile, the majority of the participants identified “educational athletics” as the core of their coaching philosophy, in which they viewed their jobs as coaches as an extension of the classroom. Moreover, most participants implemented character education into their programs and used football as a platform for teaching life lessons to their players. Yet, the most recurrent theme of the process, and the most recommended approach for achieving a coaching turnaround, was establishing positive coach–athlete relationships.

The author is with Adrian College, Adrian, MI, USA.

Westfall (swestfall@adrian.edu) is corresponding author.
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