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Leading the way: coaching and leadership in college athletics

Women's basketball head coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener. Photo courtesy of Georgia State Athletics.

We all have that image of a head coach screaming from the sidelines, throwing their clipboard in frustration and scolding players for mistakes. While the initial perception might be a tad offsetting, the reality of the job is difficult. The coach has to be a teacher of leaders.

Men's soccer coach, Brett Surrency. Photo courtesy of Georgia State Athletics.
Men’s soccer coach, Brett Surrency. Photo courtesy of Georgia State Athletics.
“You have to earn the respect of your student-athletes first,” men’s soccer head coach Brett Surrency said. “Once you have their respect, you have to help them reach a level they didn’t think they could reach. On our team we stress hard work and a business-like approach to every day, whether it be a practice or an NCAA tournament match. I think as a coach when you create a culture like that and you get all of your student-athletes to buy in to achieve success as a group, you’ve become a great leader.”

Leadership can encompass on-field and off the field attributes. The leadership qualities like hard work, dedication and striving for excellence, can carry players in athletics and life.

“A great leader can take a team to heights that they might not have dreamed possible,” women’s basketball coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener said. “A great leader pulls individuals together, works hard for each other, and gets everyone to use the best of their abilities. Not every team can be the national champion or the conference champion, but a leader can teach players to try their best to do that and improve in all aspects of their lives.”

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One aspect of a student-athlete’s life is balancing an academic schedule along with athletics. Coaches strive to encourage student’s academic and see it as a top priority.

Surrency said that for back-to-back semesters, his team has earned a collective 3.0 GPA. “We’ve actually had the highest GPA of any men’s team at Georgia State the past two semesters,” Surrency said. “We have challenged our guys each semester and those honors are a testament to the hard work our guys have put into their studies each semester.”

In the fall of 2012, eight men’s soccer players earned dean’s list honors and three made the president’s list.

“We certainly want the student-athlete to graduate, that is the first and foremost priority,” Baldwin-Tener said. She added that sports like basketball teach players teamwork and “doing your best” in everything. “That works in athletics and in the real world,” Baldwin-Tener said.

“The styles of coaching come from individuals and there are a lot of ways to achieve,”Baldwin-Tener said. “The bottom line is teaching and winning. Players change, so we as coaches have to constantly change to adjust and keep up with what works for today.”

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Coach Baldwin-Tener has won over 200 games in her head coaching career. Photo courtesy of Georgia State Athletics.
Coach Baldwin-Tener has won over 200 games in her head coaching career. Photo courtesy of Georgia State Athletics.

Knowing the capabilities of your players can alter coaching methods from one season to the next. Adjustments are made yearly in collegiate athletics as players graduate and others enter the program as freshmen.  Often, upperclassmen are looked upon for leadership.

“As a staff, we pride ourselves on improving our coaching methods year after year. In college soccer, the team changes every year as kids graduate and we add new student  athletes to the team. In that regard, we have to adjust yearly to new personalities and skill sets on our team,” Surrency said.

The importance of versatility includes passing along knowledge from one generation to the next. Surrency said it’s the reason why the program is successful today.

“We have come a long way from where we were and those eight seniors were a huge part of that. With them gone, we are looking to our current upperclassmen to step into those leadership roles for this season and beyond,” Surrency said.

Baldwin-Tener agreed that players must step up and set an example as leaders for the rest of the team.

“A head coach simply can not be in charge of everything,” Baldwin-Tener said. “The assistant coaches need to help. The players themselves need to help each other. Everyone on the court at one time, everyone on the roster has to be functioning on the same page. So it takes more than one person leading. Great teams do have a great leader on the court. It is hard to be a champion without a good coach and a good leader on the court, too.”

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