When Keith Richardson was an up-and-coming football coach, he understood the value of the S.C. Athletics Coaches Association’s annual Coaches Clinic to his development. But he never understood it more than when he walked into a seminar and spotted former Greenwood football coach J.W. “Pinky” Babb in the front row.
“Here’s a guy who’s headed to the Hall of Fame, who has won several state titles and has plenty of experience, and he feels like he can still learn something,” the association’s outgoing executive director said as he sat in a conference room at the Charleston Area Convention Center during this year’s clinic. “As the years, passed, I noticed a guy by the name of John McKissick (Summerville football coach) was always there, too.”
Though high school coaches in South Carolina are not required to be formally certified, as recommended in a recent report by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, they are learning how to do their jobs better by voluntarily attending clinics and through mentoring.
McKissick, the winningest football coach in the country and a 10-time state champion, said, “the one thing you’ve got to have in mind is that things are always changing.”
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“I’ve been in this 56 years, and I’ll never learn everything,” he said.
That pursuit of new information, new ideas and fresh perspectives is the mark of a great coach, said Richardson, who served as SCACA’s executive secretary for 17 years before stepping down in August.
“Most of your successful coaches, in any sport, they recognize that they can always learn something and that they can always improve,” he said.
This past July in Charleston, thousands of coaches gathered to learn how to develop better athletes.
In addition to the formal training, coaches huddled in the hallways during breaks, talking about their trade and exchanging notes and contact information.
“At a clinic like this, you may learn as much or more just sitting outside the sessions talking to other coaches,” said Shell Dula, SCACA associate secretary and Greenwood High football coach.
The informal education that happens when one coach sits with another and says, “this is how I do things, and maybe it will work for you, too,” is just as important, Richardson said.
As are a coach’s influences. Great coaches produce other great coaches, Dula said, and working with — or playing for — such a mentor can set a young coach on the right path.“The best thing that happened for my career was coaching under W.L. Varner at Woodruff High,” Dula said
Learning from someone who won 383 football games and 10 state titles, Dula said, helped him become a six-time state champion coach.Richardson said one of a head coach’s duties is to set an example for his assistants.
“If you’re working for somebody that’s dedicated and working hard, then you’re going to see that that is what it takes to be successful,” McKissick said.Ridge View football coach Raymond Jennings understands that principle.
He played for Chris Miller, who won a state championship at Byrnes last year, and Scott Parker and Jim Few. And several of Jennings’ assistant coaches, including Brad Scott and Demond Logan, moved on to head coaching positions.
“I was lucky enough to be around some older coaches and get an idea of how to do some things,” Jennings said. “A lot of what I learned from them was not about X’s and O’s. There are so many things going on off the field with these kids, and I had to learnhow to deal with that, the different roles you have to play.”
These days, Jennings has a mix of new and experienced coaches on his staff.
“When we get in a coaches’ meeting, that’s where we get to talk about what we need to do, what’s going on with who, and how we are dealing with certain things,” Jennings said. “You have to be all on the same page, but it is also good when you can get input from other coaches.”
This mentoring process is not about becoming the replica of a coach.
“You take things that you like, things that you can make work for you, from every place you’re at and every coach they have,” Fort Dorchster wrestling coach B.D. LaPrad said.
These days, LaPrad is among the emulated.
After winning three state titles at Irmo and Dutch Fork, LaPrad is the trunk of a growing family tree of coaches. Several of his former wrestlers have become coaches, including Lexington’s Derek Strobel and Irmo’s Kyle Kimrey.
“Sometimes they’ll call me and they’ll ask me a question about something they have got going on,” he said. His typical advice boils down to: “You just have to do what feels right for you and your kids and your philosophy, whatever that is.”
Still, LaPrad said, it is good that coaches seek guidance and advice from other coaches.
“If you’re not willing to adjust, if you think you know it all, then its time to quit,” he said.
The incentive for continuing to try to learn is simple when a coach keeps the big picture in focus, Dula said.
“The most important thing is that a coach always remember that you’re not just trying to win championships,” Dula said. “You’re trying to help young men and women mature. ... What you want is for your athlete to be better able to go into life and be a good spouse, parent, employee and citizen.”
And maybe, another good coach.
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419.