Thinking Outside The Box: Coaching Wisdom From Unexpected Places

Last season, the New York Jets finished with a 10-6 record but missed out on the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. On the whole, Todd Bowles led the Jets in a positive campaign but supporters are beginning to get restless after failing to make the postseason yet again.

Inexperienced but not without Potential…

The 2015 campaign was Bowles’ first season as a head coach and he quickly realized that he is going to have a difficult job on his hands in the AFC East. The New England Patriots are – and have been for some time – the dominant force in the division and head coach Bill Belichick has won six Super Bowl titles during his illustrious career. In fact, Belichick is widely regarded as one of the greatest in NFL history and Bowles could learn plenty from the Patriots’ boss.

Bowles didn’t exactly look out of his depth last season but his inexperience as a head coach was clear for all to see on multiple occasions – usually when it mattered the most. In order to address these issues and adapt his style, Bowles could take inspiration from great coaches and other individuals from outside the world of football.


Learn How to Hide Emotions…

One of the best ways for Bowles to improve is by hiding his emotions during matches and pre/post-match press conferences. After losing to the Houston Texans in November, Bowles lost it and “went off” in the news room following the defeat. He needs to develop a poker face and be diplomatic. In fact, he would so well to learn the range of skills required to be successful at poker and of avoiding emotional play.

Emotional play and aggressive play can be weaknesses and opponents can look to exploit this characteristic in play – especially against those who allow their emotions to get the better of them. In the poker world, this is called “being on tilt” and even the most seasoned players are prone to it. Preventing tilt is an art that takes effort, insight and even research to master. It would benefit Bowles both on the court and when dealing with journalists. In fact, when it comes to strategy, a number of athletes learn from poker players, including Michael Phelps – one of the greatest swimmers in the history of the Olympic Games. Whilst this is an individual game, Bowles could pick up a few techniques to deflect attention away from him and develop his poker face whilst facing the media.

At times, he’s looked a little sheepish and hasn’t dealt with media questions particularly well, especially when his time management skills were questioned after losing to New England. Bowles has been media-trained but there is still room for improvement. And to improve you need determination.

You only need to look at Adam Vinatieri, an undrafted free agent, to see that you can achieve anything you want to achieve if you put your mind to it. Vinatieri has won the Super Bowl on four separate occasions during an incredible career. With the right guidance, Bowles could develop into a Super Bowl-winning coach at some point in the future.


Don’t be Afraid to do a Ferguson…

Bowles could look to another head coach from a completely different sport for inspiration – particularly when it comes to making potential game-changing decisions. The Jets head coach has been tentative at times and he needs to learn how to maximize efficiency, especially when trying to come-from-behind and win matches.

Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the greatest soccer manager of all time, won an incredible 49 trophies during his glittering 39-year career – with most of those coming during his 27-year reign in charge of Manchester United. His proudest moment came in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich as he led United to victory from an incredibly precarious position.

Trailing 1-0 at the interval, Ferguson reminded his players that they wouldn’t even be able to touch the trophy if they lost. In addition, he also warned them not to come back without giving their all… and they did. But perhaps most importantly, he brought Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham on in the second-half and these two players played a key role as they scored the goals to turn the match on its head.

Bowles could learn a lot from studying Ferguson’s calculated risk-taking and general philosophy of adapting his tactics. While soccer and football are two completely different sports, man-management techniques primarily remain the same – and Bowles could potentially inspire his side to the playoffs with the help of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick if he adopted some of Ferguson’s greatest traits. For example, he could attempt a trick play – such as the flea flicker – using a player that played quarterback briefly in college.

Furthermore, Bowles could learn plenty from Ferguson’s never-say-die attitude on the training ground. The Jets coaching staff and players would certainly benefit from Bowles’ added tenacity and urgency as a head coach. When it comes to building a team, football and soccer aren’t too dissimilar. Bowles has the NFL Draft and free agency to sign new talent and football managers have two transfer windows. In that sense, the Jets could learn plenty from Ferguson’s system of trusting young players – something that the Green Bay Packers also do in the NFL.

Remember: Football is a Team Game, says Lao Tzu

But coaches shouldn’t just follow or take advice from their peers and Bowles should remember to try and deflect personal attention during the regular season. If truth be told, NFL coaches should be willing to take inspiration from almost anybody – and the legendary Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once gave a brilliant quote that Bowles could learn a great deal from: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists.” Essentially, Tzu meant that the greatest leaders and coaches allow their players to attract attention for their achievements – as well as their downfalls.

But it isn’t just down to the players. Both the coaching staff and owners need to try and follow Tzu’s quotes. And while it is hard for a football coach to stay out of the spotlight, Tzu’s premise is spot on. If Bowles can take the attention away from him, he must be doing a good job.

After all, the media only tends to focus on those coaches who are underperforming and if Bowles stays away from trouble off the field, the Jets will perform better on it. Last season, the Jets showed plenty of promise but now it’s time for them to make the next step up and Bowles – with a bit of guidance and strategy improvements – could be the man to take them back to the Super Bowl.


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